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Vet Talks Pets: Keep your Pet Safe this Winter



By Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM

Winter is here, which means the temperatures are dropping and snow is falling, and suddenly veterinarians are seeing weather-related pet emergencies increase. Common winter maladies we see in pets include orthopedic injuries, lacerations and frozen extremities, as well as soft-tissue injuries secondary to trauma from ice and snow.

“Riva,” a Golden Doodle, recently came into my office limping after taking a long snowshoe trek with her owner. Upon examination, we saw that Riva had collected large snowballs between her paw pads, a common problem in the wintertime. With some careful trimming of the hair between the pads and fitting her with protective snow boots, Riva was on her way to happier trails and luckily, did not have one of the more severe, weather related injuries.

With your furrier breeds like the doodles and poodles and retrievers, it’s important to trim those snowballs from between the toes, and keep protective boots handy. Snowballs can be quite painful for your pet to walk on and cause paw lacerations and deep skin infections so take heed!

“Scout,” a chocolate lab, presented on emergency after running alongside his owner’s snowboard. Being a very anxious and excitable pet, Scout wanted to be close to his owner, and subsequently, his paw was run over by the snowboard.

Skiing and snowboard injuries are very common  in pets this time of year, especially the active sportsters like the Labradors, as the sharp metal edges can easily lacerate tendons. This particular injury requires immediate surgery and casting for up to eight weeks, so please, don’t wait, call your veterinarian immediately, and more importantly, be careful if you are going to ski or board with your pet, knowing the consequences can be detrimental.

“Lucy,” a Burnese Mountain dog, was having a terrific time in the deep snow on her recent hike and came home holding a hind leg up. Lucy presented with swelling and movement in her knee area which subsequently was found to be a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). Cruciate and meniscal tears are as common in dogs as they can be in skiers on the mountain. Just as with their human counterparts, pets need regular, controlled exercise, and need their weight to be maintained, or injuries such as Lucy’s can happen.

ACL tears are common in the larger, more athletic breeds like the Labradors, pit bulls, boxers, Burnese Mountain dogs and Chesapeake Bay retrievers. All, like “Lucy,” require ACL surgery with an orthopedic surgeon and have a minimum of 12 weeks of rehab!

Finally, “Roscoe,” a Jack Russell terrier, presented with hypothermia after an afternoon hike. Short-haired breeds like Jack Russell terriers are very susceptible to hypothermia. If they keep moving, they will stay warm, but poorly insulated areas of their bodies can be prone to damage from extreme cold. The most important thing to remember is to get your pet warmed up immediately, have a digital thermometer handy to monitor his body temperature, and see your veterinarian immediately if he/she is not responding quickly.

So, during these long winter months ahead, think ahead. Be smart about where you go, when you go, and have the appropriate protective gear for your pet. Most importantly, BE SAFE and HAVE FUN!

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