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Pets Get Cold, Too

As temperatures drop, pets are often overlooked when it comes to preparing for cold weather. The Saturday Early Show's resident veterinarian Debbye Turner reports on how to help the animals.

For more information about the products featured during this segment on The Saturday Early Show, go to and

For more information about the beagle featured in the segment, or more information about adopting a pet, go to

All outdoor pets should have shelter from the wind, rain and snow. When the outside temperature (including wind chill) drops below zero, they need shelter that has heat. Young pets don't regulate their body temperature as well as adults, so bring them inside when it gets cold. That goes for older pets or pets that are sick, because they are especially susceptible to the cold.

Normal body temperature for a dog or cat is around 101 degrees. Hypothermia happens when the animal's body temperature falls dramatically below this temperature. The metabolic rate lowers and consequently affects organ functions. The first sign of hypothermia is shivering, then respiratory depression, lethargy, weakness, gums turn pale or bluish, lack of coordination, paralysis and collapse.

If you suspect your pet is suffering from hypothermia, wrap them in a warm, dry blanket and get them to the veterinary clinic immediately. Frostbite is especially a risk for pets because it's easy to miss under the fur.

Frostbite is the death of tissues in the body caused by ice crystal formed in cells. The parts that are most likely to get frostbite are the ears, feet, tail, scrotum and mammary glands. If conditions persist, the skin will begin to slough off. Again, immediate medical attention is necessary if you think your pet has frostbite.

Pets may need extra food in the winter so their bodies will have more fuel to keep them warm. Indoor pets might eat less since they are less active. Don't be surprised if Fido asks for second helpings in the winter. Give them!

Pets need access to fresh, unfrozen water at all times. It is better to use a heavy plastic water bowl in the winter instead of metal. Metal loses heat quickly and the water will freeze faster. Also, there's a chance the dog's tongue could get stuck to the bowl. A heated bowl is best for outside dogs.

If your dog has short or thin hair, put a sweater on it when it's time for the daily walk. Dogs that should wear a sweater include older dogs, short-haired dogs such as Chihuahuas, miniature pinschers, dachshunds, greyhounds, boxers, Boston Terriers, and dogs that are sick.

Ice balls can form around your dog's feet or between the toes. These can be painful. Clipping the hair around the feet will help reduce this. Try applying a little Vaseline or cooking spray to the bottom of the feet before a walk to keep ice and snow from sticking. Make sure to wipe the dog's feet when it comes back inside.

Salted roads and sidewalks can be irritating to the dog. If their footpads are cracked from the cold weather, the salt will be like "salt in a wound." Remember that you don't want your dog licking all that salt and swallowing it. Booties are very helpful in keeping the dog's feet dry, and clean of salt and other chemicals. Of course, it may take some time to teach your dog to wear them.

Be careful not to let your pets get too close to the fireplace and space heaters. Pets can accidentally knock over heaters or get too close to open flame.

Guidelines for a proper doghouse:

  • Shelter should be elevated off the ground, insulated, wind-tight and water-proof.
  • It should large enough for the dog to stand and turn in a full circle, and not much bigger than that. If the shelter is too big, the dog's body heat will not be able to help heat the house.
  • Bedding should be clean and dry. Wet bedding can only make matters worse for your dog. Some suggest that you use fresh hay as bedding in doghouses. A good 6-to-10-inch layer at the bottom of the house should be enough to keep the pooch protected from the cold underneath.
  • A doghouse should face the south or east to protect the animal from the wind.
  • Do not use heat lamps or space heaters in a doghouse.

    During the cold months, antifreeze poisoning becomes a bigger risk. If your dog or cat ingests antifreeze and receives no medical attention, they could die in less than a day. Signs of antifreeze poisoning include depression, lack of coordination, diarrhea, thirst and seizures. Ethylene glycol is the toxic agent. Antizol-vet can be given to stop the effect of the ethylene glycol.

    There is safer antifreeze that is made with propylene glycol that doesn't damage the kidneys but it is still toxic and can damage the nervous system.

    If you have an outdoor cat or the neighbors have outdoor cats, knock on the hood loudly before you start your car's engine. Cats will crawl into the engine to keep warm.

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