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Holiday, Winter Safety for Your Pet

  • Published
  • By Capt. Martha Petersante-Gioia
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
During the cold, blistery South Dakota winter months, people bundle up and add layer upon layer to protect themselves against the elements. However, one member of the family is often overlooked when the thermometer drops below freezing - the family pet.

Winter Woes 

When the temperature drops, animal, despite their furry coats, can be in danger too. 

Cats and other small wildlife can crawl up into engine compartments seeking warmth during the night. If there are cats in your area, remember to bang loudly on the hood of the car and check underneath to ensure no animal is seeking shelter there before driving away, said Sheri Bolda, Ellsworth Veterinary Clinic technician. 

Salt and other snow- and ice-melting chemicals also pose a hazard to pets. Antifreeze, which has a sweet flavor, can be deadly to animals, Ms. Bolda said. 

"Wipe up spills and store antifreeze [and all household chemicals] out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife or your family," according to the Humane Society of the United States' web site at

Also, pet owners should check their animal's pads when entering their homes after a walk or being outside. Snow, salt and ice can get caught between toes and fur; this runs the risk of frostbite and exposure. Additionally, animals can potentially ingest caustic snow-melting chemicals by licking their pads after a walk, she said. 

If a pet owner believes their animal has frostbite, they should begin to warm the animal with a blanket, especially around blanched area, Ms. Bolda said. "If the animal is still very cold, use a heating pad but be careful not to burn the animal. A good rule of thumb is that if you believe you need to use a heating pad on your animal, get it to an emergency veterinarian immediately." 

Ensuring animals have a source of fresh water when outside is also important, Ms. Bolda said. "During the freezing weather, make sure to use heated bowls, which you can purchase at any local farm- or pet-supply store in the area, and also ensure there is adequate shelter for the animal from the elements. 

"If you use hay for bedding, be sure that is kept fresh and does not mold. If moldy, you could expose both yourself and your pet to poisonous mold spores," she said.

Holiday treats 

The holiday season is a time to reflect on family, and more and more families are including their pets in their celebrations. 

Plants, such as live mistletoe, holly and especially poinsettias, can have adverse affects on both dogs and cats. These plants can cause your pet to develop an upset stomach or spawn more serious digestive problems, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association Web site at

"Liner foreign bodies, such as tinsel, ribbons or string, look great around the house during the holidays but are hazards to animals," Ms. Bolda said. "These items can become lodged within the digestive tract and prove to be fatal if not treated." 

A live Christmas tree may also pose a threat to your pet's health. Water may contain fertilizers, which can cause an upset stomach, and the stagnant tree water is a breeding ground for bacteria (and pets could end up with nausea or diarrhea should they drink) according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

Ms. Bolda also cautions against "spoiling pets with table scraps" during the holiday season. "Do not feed your dog bones, especially chicken or turkey; those present a choking hazard and also can cause digestive problems such as impacted bowls, tear intestinal walls, diarrhea, nausea and or vomiting." 

The AVMA warns pet parents to also limit exposure to spicy and rich foods. "Discourage well-meaning guests from spoiling pets with extra treats and scraps from the dinner table. Fatty, rich or spicy foods can cause vomiting and diarrhea and lead to inflammation of the pancreas," states their website. 

Another consideration during the holiday season is giving a pet as a gift. Ms. Bolda highly cautions against this. "Giving a puppy or kitten as a Christmas present is the worst thing to do. People may not be ready financially, do not have permission if they rent, or not ready for that life-long commitment to provide for an animal. Other considerations are if the recipient has allergies or does not have the proper space for the animal. 

"Research the situation and breed, as they are not all the same. Look at your lifestyle and ensure the animal fits it. Consider working with a local animal rescue association to find the right match. Also, allow the recipient to choose the animal they want and are ready for - give food and water bowls with a note stating they can choose a puppy or kitten." 

For more information about the Ellsworth Veterinary Clinic or with questions on winter pet safety, call the clinic at (605) 385-1589.