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Winter Hazards for Cats

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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As winter approaches, we get our winter clothes out of storage, weatherproof our homes and limit our activity outdoors. We also begin to prepare for winter holidays. In addition to preparing ourselves for winter, providing a safe environment for our pets is also important.

Outdoor Threats

Some products that are used in the cold, icy wintertime have the potential to cause injury or illness to our pets.

  • Ice melts and salt, if ingested, can result in significant gastrointestinal inflammation. Pets will walk on sidewalks, etc., pick up salt on their feet and later, clean their paws and ingest the ice melt. One way to prevent ingestion of salts and ice melts is to wash your pet's feet after coming indoors.

  • Prolonged exposure to cold weather, especially accompanied by high winds, can lower the body temperature and result in frostbite.

  • Antifreeze spills can be very dangerous. Just a small amount is all it takes to cause poisoning and possibly death.

  • Pets walking across ice-covered lakes have been known to fall through the ice and become submerged in freezing water. Drowning is likely if the pet does not receive rapid assistance.

    Indoor Threats

    As the outside temperature falls, people and pets tend to spend more time indoors.

  • Prior to using your furnace, have it evaluated for potential carbon monoxide leakage. Pets are generally in your house for longer periods than people and have a higher potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • House fires are more apt to occur in winter, often due to space heaters, wood stoves, electric blankets and other heating products. Make sure to monitor these appliances, and keep them in areas safe from your pets.

  • Certain plants are a menace to cats: Poinsettias irritate the stomach and eyes. Berries of the Jerusalem cherry are toxic, and cause pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Holly and mistletoe, amaryllis, chrysanthemum, rhododendron and winter broom as well as Christmas berry, cherry, pepper and rose can all cause problems to pets that ingest them. Note: Liquid potpourri can cause terrible burns in an animal's mouth should it be ingested.

  • Candles are a great attraction for pets, but don't leave them alone in a room with a menorah or candelabra blazing. The careless swish of a tail can be disastrous.

    The Tree

  • The natural smell of a Christmas tree attracts pets. But remember that needles (even artificial ones) are indigestible. So, keep your pet away from the tree (using a baby gate in the doorway or low lattice fencing around the tree itself). Cats like to climb so secure the tree to prevent him from knocking it over.

  • Artificial trees pose their own hazards. Small pieces of plastic or aluminum can break off and be swallowed, causing intestinal blockage or irritation to the mouth.

  • Don't use preservatives in the stand water. They can be toxic if consumed by a thirsty pet. Carefully cover the top of the stand with a tree skirt so your pet can't get to it.

  • Lights can get very hot - remove them from the lower branches of the tree so they won't burn a curious cat.

  • Tinsel is dangerous. Its sharp edges can cause cuts in the mouth. If a pet swallows a piece, it can block intestines, causing decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, listlessness and weight loss. Treatment usually involves surgery.

  • Don't use edible ornaments or fragile, easily breakable glass decorations to trim the tree. Your pet may knock over the tree trying to get to them.

  • Don't use angel hair. It's made of spun glass and can cause irritation on contact.

  • Make sure electrical cords are out of reach, taped firmly to walls or floors. Chewing on wires may cause burns or pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), which can be fatal.

  • Don't use wire ornament hooks that can easily snag an ear or a tail, or, if swallowed, can lodge in the throat or intestines. Instead, fashion loops of yarn, ribbons or light weight twine. And be careful not to leave any of that lying around.

    The Gifts

  • Check out the "toys" your pet or kids receive as gifts. A pet can swallow small parts; plastic items can be easily broken and swallowed, too.

  • Gift wrappings can be dangerous to a pet's health: String and ribbon can cause obstruction of the small bowel if swallowed.

  • Before throwing away large boxes or cartons, check the insides to make sure a kitten hasn't curled up inside.

    The Food

  • Alcohol and chocolate are toxic - keep drinks and sweets out of a pet's reach. Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, and even a single ounce of pure chocolate can be lethal to a cat. Dark and unsweetened baking chocolate are most dangerous. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, hyperactivity and seizures. Thankfully, most cats can be particular about their diet but keeping these items out of their reach can divert catastrophe.

  • Turkey bones left in an accessible place are almost irresistible to pets, but they can lodge in an animal's throat or block the intestinal tract. Remove leftovers from the table and don't leave garbage where animals can get to it.

    Winter is a wonderful and beautiful season. The ice covered ponds, snow capped trees, children sledding and making snow angels. With a little care and precaution, pet hazards can be avoided and the winter can be thoroughly enjoyed!

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