SPARKS — The winter weather in northern Nevada has been unusually mild, but on those cold days and nights owners will want to take a few precautions to ensure the well being of their pets.
Many of us think that when our dogs or outdoor cats grow that extra-thick winter coat, they are ready for the colder temperatures. Not so. Besides the fact that the pets might not have enough protection against the elements, the winter poses other obstacles. Sometimes, pet owners find themselves rushing to the veterinary hospital, nursing a pet’s paw or sore stomach.
“In the cold temperatures, even some garages are not warm enough,” said Mike Likes, a veterinarian with Desert Hills Animal Hospital. Also, “a lot of people will start using de-icing solutions in walkways and driveways. (Licking the solution) can make them have gastrointestinal symptoms, like loss of appetite, vomiting.”
Veterinarian Ben Davidson of Baring Boulevard Animal Hospital in Sparks agreed, and added that the salt in the solution might also cause chemical burns on pet paws.
Pet owners need to also be wary of allowing dogs and cats access to areas of the garage or yard where antifreeze is kept.
“One of the biggest warnings is to be careful of antifreeze,” Davidson said. “There’s ethylene glycol solvent in there. If they indulge, they lick up the rest of it. It basically crystalizes and causes kidney failure.”
For felines, Tricia Hunger, cat caretaker and co-owner of the Hideout Cattery in Verdi, warned to watch out for wintertime dryness.
“Just like humans, wintertime dries out cat skin, too,” Hunter said. “It’s a good idea to add a little oil or something that helps their skin.”
Hunter, who has cared for cats as a veterinary assistant and cat boarding facility owner for a total of 32 years, said humans usually get allergies from the dead skin of cats when they groom. And cats groom and lick their skin more often when they are itchy or have dry skin, especially in the winter.
“If you add vegetable oil (to their food), or some kind of oil — tuna oil, salmon oil — cats love the taste of it and it will create more lanolin,” Hunter said.
She also said she warns everyone she knows to keep their cats indoors during the winter, especially in her area.
“I always tell people it’s safer to keep cats indoors,” Hunter said. “There’s a big coyote problem. Reno has grown so much. Look at the area, houses have grown everywhere. It’s really easy to get a house cat.”
Hunter said cats will get their exercise in, no matter where they are.
“They will run, it’s called the ‘cat crazies,’ ” Hunter said. “It’s kind of fun to watch them. They will do their own gym work. They’re getting their exercise in, going their sports activity. They tend to put on weight, just like we do.”
Kristen Clark, a veterinarian with Advanced PetCare of Northern Nevada, warned that pets need to be watched for a weakened immune system in the colder months.
“The immune system is going to be more stressed from the harsh climate,” Clark said. “Make sure they are doing all things normally.”
Clark suggested owners pay attention to their pets and wether they are getting the proper nutrition they require. She and most of the experts who weighed in on this issue warned not to leave water exposed to the cold weather, allowing it to freeze. This will only serve to dehydrate animals who are already stressed from the weather, Clark said.
“Make sure dogs have access to fresh water,” he said. “A lot of times, the water goes outside and everything is frozen solid. It has to be changed. If it is frozen, (pets) are not going to be able to drink it. They have to lick it like a lollypop. Most pets don’t have another source.”
Clark said she preferred that owners keep dogs indoors.
“Make sure they are eating and drinking,” Clark said. “If you have to keep them outdoors, make sure they have proper shelter and that they’re warm. I don’t recommend keeping them outdoors.”
The animals at the SPCA of Northern Nevada are equally equipped to get through the cold months, said Allison Edwards, director of development.
“We don’t want them to go stir crazy,” Edwards said.
The organization, celebrating six months at its new facility on Spectrum Boulevard in Reno, is built with radiant heating and doors that automatically open to allow dogs the ability to play outside when the weather is warm enough.
The water is also kept indoors, she said.
“All dogs here are given outside time for 20 minutes (six times a day),” said Stephanie Mueller, SPCA’s canine lead. “It’s important for their growth to have off-leash time.”
The facility also has artificial grass, instead of the real thing, so water is not allowed to freeze. This ensures dogs do not slip when out for exercise, Mueller said.