When people think of Southern California they often picture sunshine and palm trees. However, recent weather has shown us that it can get cold and wet here, too. What does this mean for our beloved pets? What hazards and additional considerations do pet owners need to consider?
Pups adore roughhousing in mud and puddles (especially those water-loving retrievers!), but standing water can be polluted with runoff and become a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites. Rivers and lakes swollen in the recent rains can harbor diseases like leptospirosis and giardia, along with common contaminants like motor oil, so it is best to keep your dogs out of these bodies of water. Bring water on outings so your dogs stay hydrated and they are not tempted to drink water from puddles and other dubious sources, even on sunny days. Outdoor cats can also come into contact with dangerous water sources. It is safer for them to live indoors, or enjoy the outdoors by using a protective “catio”.
Even though this is So Cal, it gets cold enough to cause potential problems for your pet. A damp coat and warm body temperature create a good environment for bacteria to proliferate, including bacteria that causes respiratory illness. Animals that are cold most likely will have compromised circulation due to vasoconstriction, which can lead to pneumonia. Also, hypothermia is a form of stress that compromises their immune system and it can even cause death.
It’s not the size of the dog that counts – it’s the length of his hair! A little Pomeranian can tolerate the cold better than a large Doberman Pinscher. While Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes (and Dino, my Great Pyrenees) love this weather, their short-haired cousins – not so much. Make sure your pets tolerate the cold well, or are given good protection for their health and comfort. Aged animals or very thin animals also have more difficulty with weather extremes.
Despite inclement weather, our dogs still need their exercise. When walking your dog on a gloomy day, wear reflective clothing and outfit your dog with a reflective or LED collar, harness, or leash to maximize visibility. Make sure the dog’s license is up to date and securely attached in case you get separated. Of course, he is already microchipped – right? Double check to confirm that your dog’s leash is attached securely so you can safely guide your dog and guard against him running off into unsafe areas. If you hear thunder – go inside. Dogs can get spooked by the boom of thunder and bolt into a busy street or other dangerous place. Lightning often accompanies thunder and is attracted to metal, which is often contained in umbrellas, some collars, and tags.
On days where it is just too unpleasant to go outside, entertain your dog with indoor games. Fetch, tug of war, hide and seek, and other activities will reduce boredom and possibly destructive behavior. Better yet, if you only have one pet visit one of our animal care centers to adopt a companion for it! A good grooming session will invigorate your pet’s coat and make for a fun bonding session with him.
We always encourage pet owners to keep their pets inside as members of the family. If your pets happen to be restricted to an outside life, make sure their housing provides adequate shelter from the elements and warmth (this is already required by state and local laws to protect animals). Bedding should always be checked to make sure it is clean, dry, and free of mold. Outdoor sheltering should have an elevated floor (at least two inches off the ground) and a door flap to guard against wind and driving rain. Also keep in mind that bigger is not necessarily better – a proper shelter should be proportional to the size of the animal to allow the shelter to retain heat, while allowing enough space for freedom of movement. Even when the skies are clear – keep in mind the nightly lows. Consider bringing the dog’s housing inside a garage or shed when the temperatures approach freezing to provide additional protection. Remember that outside pets need additional calories to keep warm, so ensure that your dog has plenty of food. If he has longer hair, regularly feel his ribs and backbone to make sure he isn’t losing weight. But remember, your pets are happiest when they live indoors with their family.
Don’t let this break from our usual idyllic weather interfere with your love and enjoyment of your pets! By following the suggestions above, you and your critters can weather the storms and continue sharing the unconditional love you both enjoy.
Marcia Mayeda has been the Director of Animal Care and Control for the County of Los Angeles since July, 2001. She is a Certified Animal Welfare Administrator (Society of Animal Welfare Administrators). This article is reproduced from her blog, http://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/
By Marcia Mayeda