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Winter and Holiday Planning for You and Your Pet

Cold Weather Care

As the mercury drops and the winter chill settles in, we are offering some tips on keeping your companions comfortable through the winter months. Much of the advice for cold weather pet care is common sense - like making sure your companions have a warm, safe and dry place to rest if they are outdoors or a comfortable place away from drafts if they are indoors. However, it never hurts to review cold weather tips again since last winter was a long time ago - and who knows how much we've forgotten since the balmy days of summer tend to melt those chilly details from memory.

Fur Coat Care
Winter coat care is important for your furry friends. They depend on you to help keep their coat clean and mat-free so they can stay warm and comfortable. Even kitties that are fastidious about cleaning their own coat need to be brushed regularly and checked for matted fur. Clean fur fluffs and holds air - similar to layering clothes, which will help Rover or Whiskers stay warm. Matted fur pulls on the skin and can cause discomfort and irritate skin. If mats are left long enough, sores can develop and become infected. The Gripsoft Dematting Rake is a must for companions with long coats.

As the heat kicks on in your home the air gets drier. Regular brushing helps encourage and distribute the natural oils in your companion's skin and coat. Essential fatty acids and daily multi-vitamins help nourish the skin and coat making it healthier and easier to care for. The fuller and longer your pet's coat, the more attention they will need during winter weather - especially after a walk or romp in the snow.

Be sure to thoroughly wipe down your furry friend's paws, legs and underbelly after a walk in winter weather, particularly if you walk near roadways.  This is also essential for cats with outdoor access. Slushy snow from sidewalks and roadways can contain a whole host of toxic chemicals including de-icers, salt, antifreeze, and heavy metals from vehicle exhaust. Your pet will ingest these if left to clean his own fur and paws - so be sure to remove the dirt before he does with some handy Earth Friendly Pet Wipes. For an eco-friendly sidewalk de-icer, try Safe Paws - a must for all pet guardians to keep those toxic chemicals off your and your pet's feet and out of your home.

If your friend’s own fur coat is not sufficient to keep her warm, get her a cozy sweater or jacket so she can still enjoy the great outdoors during the winter months. Walks are still a vitally important part of your companion’s daily routine for exercise and mental health. In rainy climates a light weight rain coat lets your companion enjoy their walks without getting soaked.

Paw Care
Like the built-in fur coat, your companion’s paws may need a bit of extra care during winter months. Dogs, especially, become susceptible to dry pads with frequent trips out onto the cold, wet ground and then back into the heated house. Some soothing paw balm is a great way to keep those pads supple and healthy. Trimming the fur between the toes makes keeping the paws clean and healthy a bit easier, as well as helping to prevent those pesky snow balls that can form between the toes. And for those walks in the snow or on cold sidewalks or icy roads, dog boots will keep your companion comfortable and safe from the de-icing salts and other chemicals.

Good nail care is important, too. Long nails can strain tendons in the feet, and make a dog sensitive to walking on hard surfaces. They also lose traction as their nails get long because they walk more on the backs of their feet, and their toes spread more allowing more snow between the toes. Keep their nails trimmed on a regular basis with a good quality nail clipper. If your pooch doesn’t like having her nails trimmed, keep the sessions short and only do one paw at a time – or, for smaller dogs, try filing the nails frequently instead of trimming less often.

Food
As winter settles in, you may need to adjust your companion’s food intake to meet his changing fuel needs. Dogs that spend as much time outside in the winter as they do in the summer need extra protein to help their bodies produce the extra energy it takes to keep warm. And for those “less adventurous” dogs and cats who spend a bit more time indoors napping by the fire, you may need to reduce their calorie intake to keep them from getting a bit round in the middle, (which is only appropriate if you wear a read suit and keep a stable of flying reindeer).

Celebrating the holidays with scrumptious meals is tradition for most of us, but be mindful of what you share with your companions. Lean meat, lightly cooked veggies, or a spoonful of mashed yams are a fantastic treat for your canine or feline friend, but skip the turkey skin or ham fat, (and nothing with onions in it). Remember to reduce their regular rations a bit to compensate for the extra helpings of people food. Be sure the trash is well secured after holiday meal cleanup so prying paws can’t “dumpster dive” for the bones and scraps. Veterinarians see more cases of pancreatitis during the holidays than any other time of year because too many pets get too much of a good thing. Please see our article about Holiday Stress Reducers and Safety Tips for more information.

Puppies & Seniors
Thinking of welcoming a puppy into your family this holiday season? (See our article on Giving Pets as Gifts before you do!). Puppies are especially susceptible to the cold and house training is quite a bit more difficult when going outside is unpleasant rather than a treat. Keep a potty area well shoveled if you live in a snowy area, and consider a tarp lean-to or cover if you live in the rainy Northwest. Even though your puppy will grow quickly, get him a sweater or jacket for those chilly trips to the potty.

Older animals are also more sensitive to the cold, also and will tolerate less time outdoors in the winter. Consider a coat or sweater for your senior pal even if he has a longer coat. As animals age, they are less efficient at regulating their own body temperature and get cold much more easily. Older dogs are often less steady on their paws as well, so a set of boots may be helpful.

The drier air in our homes in the winter which can make animals more prone to dry noses and nasal passages, upper respiratory infections, dry, itchy skin and other problems. Consider using a humidifier to keep everyone more comfortable. An air purifier may be helpful as well since the windows are closed tight for the season and any toxins in the home have nowhere to go. For animals with extra dry skin don’t forget to increase their intake of essential fatty acids as mentioned above, and include a daily spritz of coat conditioner to soothe itchy skin.

Outdoor Dwellers
Does your dog or cat spend the day outside while you are at work? Outdoor cats and dogs need special consideration during winter months. Make sure they have an insulated, enclosed “house” to escape the elements, with a flap door that does not face into the wind. Use straw or shavings as bedding rather than old blankets. Old blankets will retain moisture as well as providing a prime breeding ground for molds and parasites, as well as insect pests. A fleece or wool blanket on top of a thick layer of bedding will wick moisture away.

If there are outdoor cats in your area, make sure to bang on the hood of your car before starting it since they like to curl up in a warm engine and may still be there when you return.

Identification
More animals are lost during winter months as snow and blustery weather can make it difficult for them to find their way home if they get lost. Make sure your pets wear current ID tags, and be sure to keep them on leash if you are walking in snow and ice.

Car Rides
Those who live where winter can bring severe weather should keep a survival kit in the car in case of emergencies. Don’t forget to include provisions for your companion like an extra blanket and water, a bowl, and snacks. And if you do take your friend for a ride in the winter wonderland, don’t leave her alone in the car. Just as the car acts as an amplifier for heat in the summer, it can easily become a freezer in the winter.

Antifreeze
A green (or pink or orange, etc) puddle on your garage floor can be extremely toxic to your dog or cat. If you fill your own radiator or if yours overflows – be sure to clean up thoroughly. Antifreeze has a sweet scent and taste that attracts dogs and cats. If you suspect your animal has ingested antifreeze, contact a veterinarian immediately. There is an antidote available for antifreeze poisoning, but time is of the essence and the longer it takes to obtain the antidote the greater the risk of kidney damage or worse.


Traveling with Your Companion

Taking Fido or Fluffy home for the holidays? Before setting out, be sure that your pet has all the essentials to ensure that their trip is happy and safe. Take along a good supply of one or more calming remedies for the car or airplane ride, along with motion sickness remedies for those furry friends who may need them. Be sure to try out any stress relieving remedy for a few days ahead of the trip to be sure that it's effective, and that your pet will tolerate it. Both dogs and cats must wear a properly fitted collar with identification - including your cell phone number and/or the phone number of your destination.

When traveling by car bring along some calming music to help with relaxation. Other essentials include water, bed, litter and litter box, leash, grooming supplies, a first aid kit and a favorite toy or two. If space is limited and you can't bring your dog's own big comfy bed, take along a travel bed to keep her comfortable wherever you stay.

Here are some remedies to support your companion through the stress of the trip:

Pheromone Spray for the car, the kennel or carrier, and the room when you arrive at your destination. It is best to spray this several minutes before bringing your pet into the area for optimal calming effects.

Flower Essences for quick and easy dosing during travel. Just use on the gums or paws. You can give this as often as needed to support your companion’s sense of ease – even every few minutes when the animal is visibly stressed.

Flower Essences for anxiety can be massages into the ears and paws, and added to the drinking water throughout your trip.

Only Natural Pet Relaxi-Herb or Pet Naturals Calming Formula can provide quick and effective help for an overly anxious pet. Don’t forget to take along a dosing syringe for easy administration.

If your companion suffers from motion sickness, try one of the following remedies:

HomeoPet Travel Anxiety
PetAlive Easy Travel

The easiest food for travel is Freeze Dried or Dehydrated diets. They are compact, light-weight and easy to prepare. If you decide to try this and your pet is used to kibble, be sure to introduce the new food gradually at least a week before your trip. Sudden diet changes during times of stress can bring most unwelcome results - like lots of trips outside if your companion's digestive system reacts unfavorably. Whatever diet you choose, pack plenty of it, since finding pet stores away from home that carry just the right food can be difficult. If your pet is prone to a sensitive digestive system, be prepared with Only Natural Pet Tummy Relief or Vetri-Science Fast Balance; these are the quickest acting remedies available for diarrhea or loose stools.

A little advance planning can go a long way to making the trip more enjoyable for everyone. For listings of pet friendly hotels see Pet Travel.com or Pet Friendly Travel.

Pet Sitting or Boarding Your Companion

Pet Sitter Prep:  Can't take your four-legged friend along on your holiday travels? For many pets the optimal solution is a pet sitter who stays in your home with your companion or at least visits several times a day. Relying on a neighbor or the kid across the street to check on your pet is not always a good idea. Pet sitters take their job seriously. They come on a schedule and will not forget to show up or leave your companion without a bathroom break for too long. Cats are a bit more resilient since they can use an indoor "bathroom," but they should still be checked on daily and provided with fresh food and water, as well as some attention and play time. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International provide information and referrals to local pet sitters. Other places to shop for a reliable pet sitter are through your veterinarian or trainer, or by asking for recommendations at your local dog park.

Boarding Your Pet:  Millions of pet guardians choose to entrust their pets to boarding facilities when they travel.  Thankfully, high quality boarding facilities are becoming easier to find. Boarding your companion can offer peace of mind: knowing your dog or cat is safe, secure, and well cared for. Advance planning is the key to finding the best boarding facility to meet your pet's needs. Ask for referrals from your veterinarian or trainer, and visit more than one boarding facility before making your choice. The American Boarding Kennels Association website provides information and referrals for boarding kennels across the country.

You shouldn’t need an appointment for a tour of most boarding facilities. In fact a surprise visit is probably best. Experts often suggest that you drop by a boarding kennel without advanced notice to the staff in order to get the best idea of how things appear, smell, and sound when it's "business as usual" and they are not expecting you.  Also, watching how the staff interacts with the animals will tell you a great deal about the care your pet will receive there. Try to find a facility that will accept blood titer results rather than requiring current vaccinations. Please see our article, "The Truth About Pet Vaccinations," for more information about the importance of minimizing vaccines.

Just as dogs and cats that will be traveling need support to manage stress, pets that are staying home alone or staying at a boarding facility will benefit from the support of calming remedies. In addition to extra support for the nervous system in handling stress, consider providing extra support for their immune system if they will be staying away from home. The remedies mentioned above for traveling pets are also appropriate for those left at home, as well as the following remedies:

Additionally, any one of the following stress and anxiety remedies can help support a dog or cat during times of stress and separation. These are best given at least 2 times per day, starting several days to a week before you are planning to leave.

  • Only Natural Pet Relaxi-Herb (a liquid herbal)
    or
  • Genesis Resources Canine or Feline Anxiety & Stress Formula (tablets that can be crushed into moist food)
    or
  • Nature’s Herbs Calming Formula (very small “tea pills” – easy for dogs to swallow, for cats can be crushed)
    or
  • LoveMyPet Stress Relief (liquid homeopathic and herbal drops)
     

In addition to one of the remedies above, add one of the following flower essences to the drinking water:

  • SpiritEssence Holiday Stress Stopper
    or
  • Pet Essences Loneliness/Home Alone

Consider these remedies for providing extra support for your companion's immune system in preparation for a stay at a boarding facility:

  • PetAlive KC Defense can help prevent kennel cough or other respiratory infection. Give this for 7 days prior to boarding your pet.
    and / or
  • Colostrum sprinkled on the food is a well-tolerated immune support supplement. Even cats like the taste. Start giving this 3 to 5 days prior to boarding your companion, and have the staff continue supplementing during your pet’s stay.

Be sure to have one of the flower essences listed above added to your pet’s drinking water while they are boarded as well. Any competent, ethical boarding facility will happily add whatever supplements provided to your cat or dog’s food and water to help make their stay more comfortable.

If fleas are a problem in your area, be sure to spray or wipe your pet down with Only Natural Pet Herbal Defense Spray before they go to the facility. And treat their bedding with some All-in-One Flea Remedy to avoid bringing any pesky parasites home with you. Along with his favorite bed and a toy or two, leave a t-shirt that you have recently worn that will retain your scent to help comfort your companion. And don’t forget to pack plenty of his favorite treats for the staff to spoil your friend in your absence!

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The articles and information in the Holistic Healthcare Library are presented for informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product. The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian. Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff, guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care products.

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