Warmth, fresh food and water essential to keeping pets happy

Posted: Monday, October 16, 2000

When the snow flies, human needs are not the only needs to be considered. The warmth of domesticated animals during the winter also is important.

The needs of each animal varies during the winter months, but the experts agree most important is warmth, fresh food and water.

Large dogs and cats who spend the winters outside need special care.

Dr. Tim Bowser, a Soldotna veterinarian, said the main thing needed for large outside dogs is a clean, warm dog house.

He said owners should inspect the dog house for any nails or harmful debris that may have accumulated during the warmer months.

"Make sure it is a nice residence for them," he said.

Bowser said adding a type of bedding also can warm dog houses up. There are many different types of bedding to do the trick, including cedar chips or blankets.

Owners should be aware of the location of the dog house, Bowser said. The house should be kept from northern exposure to ensure the warmth of the pet.

Another important issue facing pet owners, Bowser said, is the changing of automobile fluids.

"Antifreeze can be lethal to pets," he said.

Bowser said owners should change antifreeze as far away from pets as possible and make sure not to leave any on the ground.

Owners who have cats that venture outside often need to have a place where the cat can seek shelter from the cold, he said.

Extreme cold weather exposure can cause frostbite to cats' ears.

Pet owners also should make sure all pets are up to date with their vaccines and that they are parasite free, Bowser said.

Even small animals, such as reptiles, turtles and fish, need special attention, even though they stay inside.

Jody Hoskins, owner of Our Best Friends pet store on Kalifornsky Beach Road, said temperature changes can cause reptiles to decrease their food and water intake. To avoid the decrease, they need a supplemental light source during the long dark months.

"They need to be as close to sunlight as possible," he said.

Ultraviolet lights also can help the reptiles break down their food and absorb vitamins better, as well as stimulate them to more activity.

Without needed heat and sunlight, Hoskins said some reptiles will go into hibernation.

"Cold-blooded animals need heat and sun to not hibernate," he said.

Hoskins said that fish are susceptible to colder temperatures also.

The water temperature for gold fish should be between 72 to 77 degrees, otherwise digestion of the fish slows down, which could eventually cause death. Because of Alaska temperatures, different types of aquarium heaters are needed to keep fish warm.

"House temperatures are not warm enough to sustain them year round," he said.

In the winter, exterior walls can be draftier than interior walls, so Hoskins advised keeping animals in cages against interior walls. House temperatures, he said, should be between 70 to 75 degrees.

"Even if they (doors or windows) don't open, they may still have a draft," Hoskins said.

Hoskins said that people should be aware that the animals he sells are not native to Alaska and special care needs to be taken for the pets' health and well-being.

Larger animals who spend their lives outside also need thought as winter approaches.

Gerald Nybakken, a large animal veterinarian, said large animals need adequate housing for protection from wind and moisture.

With the onset of winter, horses' outer coat grow out longer.

Nybakken warned that some horses may be new to Alaska and they are not acclimated to the frigid winters. If they don't produce a proper coat as veteran horses do, blankets may be needed on extremely cold days.

He also stressed the importance of horses not losing weight. The animals have to have a kind of stalky hay source, so they can ferment the rough forage to maintain body heat.

If they lose weight, it means their body is unable to keep up with the cold.

Water also is important for larger animals. Nybakken said he recommends heated water bowl because horses do not like cold water.

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