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Veterinary Talk by Dr. Jim Humphries

Winter means extra care for animal pet friends

I suspect that come spring, weíll see a lot of ìFor Saleî signs on homes in El Paso County because of this wicked winter. Up here on the Monument Ridge, I suspect we wonít see anything other than white until May. But that is Colorado. We moved here from Dallas just in time for the 1997 blizzard and that was our ìtrial by fireî or snow drift, I should say.That next summer I was looking for a bigger tractor (with a cab), an 8-foot snowblower. I was revising our three-quarter-mile driveway to be crowned (best I could) and I was putting up a snow fence like crazy. Now, 26 years later, that drive and the snow fence does pretty well, and the old snowblower is only hooked up about every two to three years. But we can get some nasty winters out here, and we really must be prepared for them.Speaking of this, we also have our horses, dogs, chickens, etc, and over the years, we have learned how to keep them all safe, and what temps and forecasts really require our attention.So, from experience, here are a few ways to keep your four-legged animal friends safe in these dangerous temps and wind chills.Keep your pets inside with you and your family. You simply should not leave pets outdoors when the temperature drops much below freezing. The physiologic stress alone is enough to reveal underlying disease, but Iíve seen bad cases of hypothermia and frostbite in the ER, and frankly it is heartbreaking and inhumane. The ONLY way it could be considered humane is for them to have a shelter from wind and an external source of heat and a small covered or flap door so it will hold in some heat. The doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. There are several infrared modes of heat for a small doghouse that should not cause a fire.If your dog has a buddy and you provide lots of deep bedding or blankets and face the door away from the wind they might be OK. But frankly, Iíd recommend you figure out a way to let them into the house, even if it is a dog door into a wash room or garage. Ours are pretty pampered and they each have their winter blankets (like mini horse blankets), but they also enjoy their run in the deep snow and wind for about 20 minutes. Dogs are happiest when taken out frequently for walks and exercise, but I would keep them inside the rest of the time.Under no circumstances should pet cats be left outdoors, even if they roam outside during other seasons. They just donít use a shelter like dogs do.Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors in stressful weather need more food in the winter because they need the energy to keep warm. Our local farm stores sell heated pet water bowls and buckets, this is a must. Use plastic food and water bowls; when the temperature is low, your pet’s tongue can stick and freeze to metal.Snow melt chemicals can irritate the pads of your pet’s feet and can also make some pets very sick. So just wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates their mouth.Remember, antifreeze is a deadly poison, keep it away from pets and wipe up any spilled liquid off the garage floor. You can also use antifreeze made with propylene glycol because they are less toxic to pets, wildlife and family.Stray cats may find their way inside your car or truckís engine at night, so it is a good idea to bang on the hood and/or blow the horn before starting the engine.Horses, at a minimum, need a barn or a three-sided run-in so they can escape the wind and cold. While not all horses will need to be blanketed, blankets will help horses keep warm and dry, especially if there is any rain or snow. Make sure their water has a heater and feed a LOT of hay to help them create more body heat.Chickens? Well, they are amazing. When we got chickens I was all ready to put a heat bulb in the coop, until my wise spouse (who had been reading) found that even very experienced chicken keepers in North Dakota do not provide heat for their chickens. They do fine in below zero temps. A good coop is all they need, and of course, either an automatic door, or close their door at night for roosting! Stay warm!

Dr. Jim Humphries has been a veterinarian for 45 years. He has served in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps and as the veterinarian at the CBS News Morning Show in New York and CNN. He has written for Family Circle Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. He now serves as an adjunct professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes (and chickens).

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