Winter Weather Hazards

In a previous piece, you scored some advice on how to winterize your driveway without harming the household pets, but there are a number of other cold weather tips that we can offer. Want to avoid ice melt altogether? You can make your walkways safer for humans by applying sand, kitty litter, sawdust, or volcanic mineral that is sold for this purpose. These only increase traction and do not melt the ice, but they may be sufficient for your purposes. When you’ve been out for a walk on public streets, you won’t know what your dog has accumulated on her paws. Give them a quick rinse with warm water on your return to the house. Ice melt is generally easy to remove as it dissolves in an excess of water. Some have recommended boots to keep dog paws safe from cuts and chemical granules, but many dogs won’t accept boots without a lengthy and arduous training process. It’s the same with sweaters, I’m afraid.

Always be vigilant for antifreeze, even in very small amounts, and don’t forget that coolant leaks are a year-round risk. Some newer antifreeze products contain only propylene glycol, a safer cousin of the original super-toxic formula, but the different types aren’t easy to distinguish from one another. Tiny puddles of antifreeze are big enough to kill but small enough to go undetected. Don’t let your dog lick at standing liquid when you’re outdoors on the street, especially in areas that are likely parking spots for cars. If you suspect antifreeze ingestion, you should go straight to the vet with your pet—dog or cat.

“Snowballs” are a big nuisance to those who suffer from them, but not life-threatening. This condition usually occurs on the bellies, legs, and feet of curly-coated or long-coated breeds. Snow begins to stick in the fur as your dog ploughs her way through it. Body heat, licking and further contact with the outdoors cause this snow to melt and refreeze, compacting it into hard pellets that can grow very large in size. They continue to accumulate until your dog is nearly immobilized in chunks of ice. It’s very difficult to remove without cutting the fur or using a full bath of warm water. They’ll form again when she goes out again for playtime. One solution is to cut the hair short on your pet’s legs and feet, particularly in between the toes. Another is applying a light coat of cooking spray to the affected areas before you venture outside. A quick rub with solid shortening has been recommended for the skin between the toes. If you want to save your kitchen products for their intended purpose, there is a product known as “paw wax” which may be of some assistance.

There’s no reason the two of you can’t go out and get some good playtime in, even when the weather is cold or a blizzard is blowing in. Next time, a few things you’ll need to watch for if your pet goes outdoors unattended in the cold.

Dr. M.S. Regan