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January 23, 2007 > Brrrrr...!


By Nancy Lyon

Whatever the cause, it looks like extreme weather is something we may have to get used to. The recent temperatures dropping into the teens have caused strong concern for the less fortunate among us who are unprotected from the elements.

Yet it may not cross your mind that one of those unfortunates may be a member your family. If your companion animal is delegated to the backyard or cold garage during freezing or rainy weather, most animal lovers would say that you are failing in your role as his guardian and friend.

Our companion animals through their long association with humans have long ago lost whatever protections evolution may have given them to face weather extremes. The erroneous belief persists that because they have fur or feathers that they will somehow adjust to the damp and chilling temperature. But the truth is they get just as cold in icy and wet weather as humans and are subject to chilling with all the same resulting misery and health problems.

They must trust that you will be aware of their need to also be kept warm and dry in the company of loved ones. One of the saddest things to see is a loyal family "pet" looking longingly through a window at the rest of his "pack" inside - isolated and alone, and it is doubly so in bad weather.

Animals left outside can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. Wind-chill can threaten their welfare and life no matter what the temperature, with young and senior animals being especially at risk. If you are away a lot, there are ways to insure your animal's comfort and well-being in chilly times. Consider installing a doggie door so your dog can take potty breaks and come in out of the cold.

Most of us of a "certain age" can tell you that cold weather is tough on old joints and if your animals are seniors the cold and damp weather also makes things worse for them. Special care needs to be taken to insure that arthritic joints are treated gently and while exercise is important they should not be kept out for long periods of time during cold weather. The happiest dogs are those who are taken out frequently for walks and exercise but kept inside the rest of the time. Geriatric and shorthaired dogs may need the protection of a warm doggy sweater or jacket on wintry outdoor excursions.

Cats, rabbits and other small animals need warm bedding to snuggle in when it grows cold. Everyone knows that any self-respecting cat would not consider venturing out into the cold and wet by choice.

Heat-seeking outdoor cats and wildlife may also try to find sanctuary from the cold on a warm car engine without knowing the danger. Parked cars can attract small animals that may crawl up under the hood looking for warmth. It only takes a moment to bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine. Avoiding injury to any hidden animals and the damaging results to your car are well worth the effort.

Looking at the snow on neighbouring hilltops reminds us that we won't be seeing the end of winter for a while so don't delay in making cold weather provisions to protect your animal family. It's really not that difficult to help insure they remain healthy and comfortable. If you have any concerns about their well-being and health during the cold period ahead, consult your veterinarian. Keep in mind that prevention is far less costly to your animal friend's health and beats paying a big veterinary bill.

But probably the best prescription for winter's woes is to keep them inside with you. Companion animals are social and crave human companionship; they are your devoted friends who deserve to live and thrive indoors with you and the rest your - and their - family.

For additional cold weather tips check out:

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