Sextiped Valley column: Winter wonders and woes
As I’m writing this, the sun is shining on a mostly-bare, dry landscape. Coloradans are waiting, impatiently, for snow. Colorado dogs, too (cats, not so much).
Christmas morning, my two were convinced Santa had brought the fluffy stuff just for them, and it was lovely that all of us could enjoy it without having to go out and drive in it. None of us are too thrilled about the sad piles of dirty ice left scattered about, which fail to provide any seasonal pleasures like snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, snow ball fetching and the occasional, irresistible wallow. Rascal and Chum look at me reproachfully. What’s the point of cold temperatures if there’s no snow?
Well, those frigid temps don’t give much cause for celebration among the four footeds. For one thing, feet get seriously cold and can’t maintain traction when it’s icy, and many of the ice-melting preparations used to combat it cause misery to a pet’s bare pads, as well as more serious problems when they lick it off. There are a few less harmful products out there, so here are a few tips on how to choose among them.
First, avoid all chlorides. Rock salt causes dry, cracked pads when walked upon and is toxic when pets lick it off their sore feet. Safer ice melting chemicals include urea, which is safe but harmful to vegetation as a nitrate pollutant, and is expensive. CMA, or calcium magnesium acetate, is relatively nonharmful — but isn’t terribly effective, either. Modified crystalline carbonyl diamide is safe, but usually found in combination with other agents.
So far, I have found only two completely safe ice melts that are widely available: Safe Paws, and Morton Safety Pet. Use these at home, and apply one of the waxy pad-protectants to your dog’s feet when you venture onto surfaces that may have been salted.
A much more serious winter threat to pets is accidentally-ingested antifreeze. Unfortunately, both ethylene glycol (the highly toxic ingredient) and propylene glycol (the less toxic, but still dangerous, ingredient) attract both dogs and cats due to their sweet taste. I know, cats are not supposed to be able to taste sweetness. But I’ve known too many kitties with a sweet tooth to bet their life on that.
Before 2012, one veterinary toxicity report concluded that antifreeze poisoning accounted for nearly 50 percent of dog and cat deaths by poison. At that point, manufacturers were persuaded to use propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol in all brands made in the U.S. In addition, many companies added denatonium benzoate as a bitter flavoring to discourage pets from licking up the stuff. This is the chemical used in anti-nail biting and thumb sucking preparations and is not 100 percent effective as a deterrent.
The safest approach is to completely restrict access to containers by pets, and to immediately clean up any spills or leaks, carefully disposing of clean up materials. It takes very little to cause serious illness or death.
If your dogs are waiting for snowfall to indulge in winter sports, don’t let them be couch potatoes in the meantime, and then hit the trail when it finally comes. Conditioning is important for avoiding injuries due to inactivity and its decline in fitness. At the least, keep up daily walks, preferably with opportunities for vigorous running and fetching off-leash with other dogs.
If you are unable to do this yourself, dog day care may be one good option. But we now have a new veterinary fitness and rehab facility in Glenwood, which I’ll tell you more about next month. For now, think about how you keep fit by swimming at the hot springs pool — and imagine a place where your dog can enjoy a similarly enjoyable indoor warm water workout.
Here’s hoping you enjoyed happy holidays and are making the most of the long, cold nights to snuggle up with furry friends and a good book.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.