As the temperature begins to dip below the freezing mark across the state, many Oklahomans are finding themselves turning up the heat in their homes so they can be more comfortable.

As you make changes to keep yourself warmer, pet owners should be doing the same for their pets, said Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension veterinarian.

It is imperative that outdoor dogs have a doghouse that is insulated and protected. Be sure to face the entrance away from the wind and have a flap to keep drafts to a minimum. Make sure the whole structure is waterproof and large enough for your dog to lie down, but remember, the smaller the area the easier it will be for the dog’s body to heat the house.

Clean hay, straw, cedar shavings or blankets should be placed in the house for added warmth and comfort. Also, keep in mind that matted fur will not keep your pet warm, so be sure to keep the dog’s coat well groomed.

“When the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, shorthaired dogs, elderly dogs and puppies should be kept indoors for their safety,” she said. “Paws, ears and tails are more susceptible to frostbite. The skin of an animal that is suffering with frostbite may initially appear bright red, then turn a pale color. If you suspect frostbite, cover your pet with warm towels, gently pat the affected area dry (do not rub the area) and take the pet to the veterinarian.”

Cats and other wild animals that live outdoors during the winter months may seek warmth by crawling up into car engines. Hit or bang on the car’s hood or sound the horn before starting the engine so the animal will have time to escape from what could be a traumatic situation.

McAllister said it is not just the cold weather that can be hazardous to your pets in the winter. People commonly change their car’s antifreeze in the winter months and some antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is toxic. Pets like the sweet taste of antifreeze and will readily consume it. Since even a small amount is poisonous, contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze.

“The signs of antifreeze poisoning include staggering and appearing depressed or acting drunk,” she said. “These symptoms can last up to 12 hours, and it may even appear your pet is getting better. However, within 24 hours there will be prolonged vomiting, severe kidney pain, mouth and throat ulcers and ultimately the toxin will kill the pet. It’s imperative that antifreeze spills get cleaned up right away. Be sure to store containers of antifreeze in sealed containers where children and pets can’t reach.”

When the roads get icy, many towns and cities have trucks that lay down a layer of rock salt. Homeowners also may put it on their sidewalks and driveways. Unfortunately, the rock salt is abrasive and may cut into your pet’s paws. The salt can become embedded in the wound and is quite painful.

Anytime your pet is outdoors and comes into contact with rock salt, check its paws when coming back indoors. Remove ice balls between the pet’s toes and wipe the animal’s feet with a damp towel to remove any salt.

Another tip for winter care of pets kept outdoors is you may need to feed them extra food because staying warm typically requires extra calories. Always keep clean water available and c heck outdoor water bowls several times per day as water may freeze if the temperature is low enough.

“Just as you take extra precautions with your family during the winter months, do the same for your pet to ensure he stays safe and healthy during this cold season,” MacAllister said.

Justin McConaghy is a 4-H educator with the OSU Cooperative Extension Service.

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