As we all know, winter has hit the eastern US like a runaway freight train. Nearly two feet of snow within less than a week has forced many of us to focus nearly all of our attention on just getting to and from work. Shoveling, getting fuel, commuting for hours, and having food in our house (especially for the pets) becomes the major goal for each day. With little easing up in the near future we need to take a breath and consider the multitude of potential dangers that exist in the lives of our pets during these times.
In this first post, let’s take a look at the potential hazards for our pets regarding elimination. The outdoor environment has become extremely harsh. Deep snow is much more difficult for aging or challenged pets to exercise. Stress on knees, elbows, hips and especially backs ratchets up considerably when dogs and cats are fighting their way through the deep snow. Keeping cats confined indoors is one way to protect our feline friends but remember that some cats will not use litter boxes if not acclimated. Dogs may go outside but will hesitate to defecate if there are not clear, easily negotiable paths for them to travel. Urinary and fecal retention (holding urine and stool for a long time) can result when anything upsets the gastroenteric or urinary routine of your pet. This retention often results in urinary tract disease as well as constipation, a condition that can be quite serious in older pets. What can we do to ensure our pet’s eliminatory health? First acclimate all cats to litter boxes, even if they typically use the outdoors. Two litter boxes in different parts of the house give the shy cat an option for relieving themselves. Fresh litter is very enticing to most cats so more frequent litter changes are indicated for cats that frequent the outdoors when suddenly kept confined. For dogs it is important to maintain the normal schedule of outdoor trips. We get occupied with the shoveling and clearing of snow outdoors and sometimes forget that our pets need their time as well. Create paths through the yard to favorite elimination spots to encourage our canine friends to keep their routines intact. Even though it becomes more difficult with all of our other new urgencies, take the time to carefully observe. Make sure that the litter boxes are showing the appropriate soiling; that all the cats appear to be using them and that no vocalization is heard during elimination. For dogs it is a bit easier. Although some will only defecate in total privacy most will give in during these challenging times. Constipation, urinary tract disease, difficult mobility and mood changes from increased confinement are often seen during difficult winters. Be an acute observer and make sure to take time to enjoy your pets as well as to answer to their needs. You are their best advocate. If you notice anything that is even slightly awry, contact your veterinarian at once. Life is difficult enough for most of us during this trying winter. Don’t make it worse by ignoring your pet that may be suffering as well.