Watch for winter dangers for our pets

Alabama Living Magazine

Based on several predictions, we should have near-normal temperatures this winter in the Southeast. However, even our normal winter sometimes gets cold. It seems like our coldest weather is usually from December to mid-February. Please bring pets indoors, at least during the night. The garage or other buildings are usually fine.

Sometimes, folks have too many pets to do this. If nothing else, monitor the “hourly temperature” on your weather app, and bring pets in at least for the very cold days. The cold tolerance varies greatly depending on the breed, but freezing and below-freezing temperatures cannot be comfortable for many pets.

For pets that spend time outside, consider giving them a shelter made specifically for outdoor areas. This little hut has heavy plastic flaps on the front and rear entrances (removed for photo). Photo by Allison Law

The next choice is sheltering. Many folks around us have “igloos,” or they make small dog houses. I feel that most of them need some simple modifications. Orient the door of the doghouse away from the north and southwest, as most of our storms seem to come from that direction.

Usually, I do not see heavy plastic flaps in front of these houses, which can work great for insulation. If one could fashion an L-shaped entryway, the dwellers would be happier as they would be protected from direct winds. If you cannot create an L-shaped entrance or have heavy plastic flaps, it will be very easy to have two T-posts and a screen in front of the entry to block the wind and the rain.

Now for keeping the inside warm, during the previous years, readers have suggested using wheat straw (not hay). I am not fond of cedar shavings, as I have seen several skin issues with cedar shavings. No matter what you use, it will be nice to change the bedding every few weeks. Please increase their food as they will need more calories to cope with the cold. Also, make sure that they have water in a plastic container, and it is not iced over.

In the past, we talked about extra heating sources. Retailers sell electrical heating pads made specifically for outdoor use. Never use the heating bulbs. I’ve personally heard of two cases where these have started fires. Jackets for short-haired dogs are also a good idea, but please make sure that their clothing does not get wet.

From what I understand, it is considered cruel and illegal in all 50 states to have a dog tied up outside with no shelter in inclement weather. I understand that you can report these situations to animal control. (As an aside, I do wish we would change the name from animal control to “animal welfare services” or “animal care and assistance,” or something like that! A name matters, as it sets the agenda.)

Now, let’s move on to “howliday” dangers.

  • Do not give them fatty scraps or bones. There is a pet-to-pet difference in how they handle different foods. Dogs (and cats) that are fed a single diet for all their lives tend to have a narrower range of gut bacteria and tend to be less resilient to change. They may be very susceptible to gut upset if fed new food. Since many of us still want to share the festivities with our pets, what we can do is to split the difference.
  • Let’s not say “no” or let’s not say “all is fine.” For example, let’s say we are making candied yams. We can easily give them a touch of boiled (or baked) yams before we dress it up with butter and marshmallow. If we feel like giving them a piece of turkey, let’s trim a tiny bit of deeper breast pieces (hoping that there are no injected spices, etc.) and give them a little bit. Let’s avoid the skin (higher in fat and spices if your pet is not used to them). It will be better to avoid the bones of chicken and turkey.
  • Do not let them near chocolate, sugar-free items, or other desserts. If you feel compelled, I think it will be OK to give a tiny, tiny bit of xylitol-free dessert. Please remember their body weight. A tablespoon of chocolate cake is probably nothing for a 100-pound Pyrenees but will be troublesome for an eight-pound Chihuahua. A little bit of common sense is warranted.
  • Protect the alcohol, like half-full glasses left on the coffee table. I have seen alcohol poisoning this way when I used to work in the ER. Of course, I would not recommend sharing your whiskey with your pets. Although legends have it that the British in India used to share their rum with their horses and maybe even their dogs, let’s try not to share that merriment!
  • Be watchful of decorations and ornaments. While the plastics are fun for dogs to chew on, and cats love playing with ribbons, they both can lead to obstructions that can end in surgery or death, so let’s be careful.

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He owns High Falls Holistic Veterinary Care near Geraldine, Alabama. To suggest topics for future discussions, email him at


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