The frigid winter weather can be detrimental for domesticated animals, the most serious issue being hypothermia that cause health risks or even death. Two Mountaintop veterinarians spoke this week about how pet owners can keep their animals safe this time of year.
Limiting a dog or cat’s outside exposure when temperatures plummet is the biggest piece of advice given by the two vets –Dr. Bruce Bell, of the South Mountain Veterinary Hospital on Church Road, and Dr. Karen Spiece, of the Mountaintop Animal Hospital, on South Mountain Boulevard.
“You should keep them inside as much as possible,” related Bell, adding of deciding to take dogs for a walk, “If it’s too cold for humans, it’s too cold for animals.”
Spiece commented that if the temperature is less than 25 degrees, only short, necessary walks are recommended for hyper dogs that need to burn off energy. Also, she said, pets should wear sweaters or booties to keep them warm.
If a pet must be kept outside for a period of time, it is important that they are given shelter with straw or blankets to use for warmth and that they always have access to fresh, thawed water, Spiece said.
Hypothermia is defined as a condition when the body temperature is below normal. For dogs, the muscles will stiffen, breathing and heart rates will decrease, and frost bite can occur. A normal body temperature for a dog is between 100 and 102.5 degrees, so heat should be applied until the animal reaches that temperature.
Bell explained about the levels of hypothermia. The first is mild, when a dog’s temperature ranges 90 to 99 degrees, and typically comes with lethargy, depression, weakness and shivering. For that, a pet owner should try warming the animal with blankets.
Moderate hypothermia, 82 to 90 degree temperatures, is characterized with muscle stiffness, slow heart rate, lack of mental awareness, and a decreased blood pressure and respiratory rate.
At below 82 degrees, severe hypothermia, a pet will have difficulty breathing, an inaudible heart rate, and fixed or dilated pupils. “When it’s severe hypothermia, that’s when a vet definitely has to be involved,” Bell stated. “We’ll use heating pads or radiant heat.” The animal’s insides might also be warmed with enemas or lavaging.
Some breeds of dog are more tolerant of the cold, such as the Alaskan malamute, Huskie, and Samoyed, while smaller dogs with shorter coats do not cope as well and do best when wearing sweaters or coats, Bell said.
He added that healthy dogs can tolerate colder temperatures better than those with issues, such as heart disease, kidney problems, or diabetes, as these conditions can interfere with a dog’s ability to maintain a safe body temperature.
His small pug Enzo, who has diabetes, was at the office with Bell one recent cold day and he was
wearing a sweater for warmth. Enzo actually inspired Bell to become a veterinarian as he previously was working as an attorney but not satisfied with his work.
The former lawyer, who has worked at the South Mountain Veterinary Hospital for five months, cited a Pennsylvania state law that indicates that it is an offense to “deprive any animal of necessary sustenance...or access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal’s body heat and keep it dry.”
If an animal is encountered that has been outside for an undetermined period of time, there are specific signs that it is having issues, Spiece related, such as whining or barking, shivering, anxiety, or lack or movement. She added that a pet may faint from being too cold.
“You definitely want to try to warm them up as soon as you can,” she said. “The first step is to use a blanket with a heating pad on top, so it doesn’t burn their skin. If they’re wet, you can dry them with towels or a hair dryer.”
Spiece has been practicing veterinary medicine for 20 years and she’s been the owner and operator of the Mountaintop Animal Hospital for 15 years. On the same recent cold day, she, too, had her two dogs,