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Put a sweater on your doggie

Dancer, a miniature Beagle, models a winter sweater Jan. 31 at PetSmart in Federal Way. Scientific research indicates that animals may be  more likely to get sick when it
Dancer, a miniature Beagle, models a winter sweater Jan. 31 at PetSmart in Federal Way. Scientific research indicates that animals may be more likely to get sick when it's cold outside.
— image credit: Margo Horner/The Mirror

By MARGO HORNER, The Mirror

They may look silly, but sweaters are a good idea for some dogs during the winter months, experts say.

“I think it makes good sense... A lot of short-haired dogs and small dogs I think are more comfortable with their sweaters on,” said Lee Harris, a veterinarian at Sacajawea Healthcare for Pets in Federal Way.

“As funny as they may look and as much as we might make fun of them, I do think they’re a good thing when the weather is cold, you know, down in the 30s,” Harris said.

Al Dams, manager of King County Animal Care and Control, agreed that sweaters are a good idea for small or short-haired dogs.

“It depends, is it a Husky or a Cougar sweater,” Dams joked. “I would never put a Cougar sweater on my animal.”

Joking aside, keeping pets safe during the winter weather is serious business, Dams said. It is important to be sure outdoor water dishes are not frozen. Also, animals need more food in the winter to keep warm.

“Make sure you have a shelter for them, which is required by law,” Dams added. “If it feels really cold outside to you, it feels really cold outside to your animal as well.”

Harris said it is best to keep animals indoors, especially during the evenings. Overnight it is colder, animals are less active and they risk getting frostbite. If animals must be outdoors, it is important that they have an area where they can get out of the wind or rain.

Cats in good health are more likely than many dogs to find a way to make themselves comfortable in the cold.

“Cats manage to find someplace under a porch or something like that,” Harris said.

Large, thick-coated dogs are also safer outside because their body mass and muscles will work to keep them warm.

“Small dogs are going to get chilled much more quickly because they don’t have the body mass to keep them warm,” Harris said. “The little dogs, sometimes they will get hypothermia.”

Harris said recent scientific research indicates that animals may be more likely to get sick when it’s cold outside. Some illnesses, such as strep throat, can be passed between pets and owners, he said.

“When it’s cold season, we’ll see one every couple weeks,” he said. “It’s hard to prove that they’re sharing the same virus, but we know it can happen.

“If you have a really sore throat, maybe you shouldn’t be snuggling the dog too much,” he said. “Bacteria aren’t really all too picky about who they affect.”

Animals who are elderly or sick may require special consideration in the cold weather, Harris said. It is important to remember that animals, too, are susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning due to unsafe indoor heat sources.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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King County Animal Care and Services recommends the following tips to care for pets in cold weather:

Remember that even on cold wet days, your dog needs exercise. Braving the elements for a brisk walk will make you both feel better.

In wet weather, make sure short-coated dogs are kept dry and warm with a sweater or coat. After a romp outside, dry off long-coated dogs thoroughly. Wet fur next to their skin can make them catch cold.

After walks in snowy weather, check pet feet carefully: Melted snow can clump painfully between the foot pads or turn into ice and cut the skin. Try rinsing them with plain warm water and drying them as soon as you get home.

Shelter from the wind and moisture is very important. Wind chill affects pets just like people. Very young and older pets are most susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. When the temperature drops, make sure they’re in a warm space, out of the elements.

Access to fresh, clean water is essential to a pet’s health. In cold weather, a pet’s water dish can frequently freeze over. Owners need to be watchful and consistently provide fresh water.

Antifreeze kills. The active ingredient in antifreeze is ethylene glycol, a deadly poison with a sweet smell and taste that may attract pets and children. If consumed, it causes rapid and permanent kidney damage. If consumed in even very small amounts of antifreeze, it can be fatal. Wipe up spills immediately, keep out of reach of children and pets, and reduce the risks of ingesting chemicals picked up outside by wiping or rinsing off pet feet after walks.

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