Monday, December 27, 2010

Hypothermia and frostbite

Hypothermia and frostbite

Q: What are hypothermia and frostbite?

A: Hypothermia is a lowering of the core body temperature well below the dog’s normal 101.5-102.5 normal rectal temperature. Substantial lowering of the temperature interferes with the metabolic functions of the body and affects the internal organs. A dog’s first reaction to the lowering of his temperature is to shiver. Shivering increases muscle activity, which in turn increase heat production. At the same time, his blood circulation shifts away from his legs and feet to his internal organs.

Mild hypothermia causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, but if the time and severity of heat loss continues, heart rate and blood pressure decline and cardiac arrhythmias or cardiac arrest can occur. Severe hypothermia leads to respiratory depression, lethargy, lack of coordination, paralysis, and collapse.

Treatment for hypothermia involves rapid warming of the body. In mild cases, heating pads, hot water bottles, or a warm water bath will do the trick, but severe cases require introducing warmed fluids internally via intravenous flow, dialysis, or enema. Veterinarians may also use corticosteroids and monitor the dog for heart arrhythmias and pneumonia and check for frostbite.

Prolonged exposure to the cold can also cause frostbite — the death of tissue in the extremities. Dog toes, tails, ear tips, and scrotum are the most common frostbite areas. Frostbitten tissue appears pale and is cold to the touch. It should be rewarmed slowly and given time to heal. It may turn red and swollen and be very painful as it heals. If it does not heal in three or four days, amputation of the dead tissue should be done to avoid gangrene or mummification of the area.

Obviously, prevention is worth more than a pound of cure with hypothermia and frostbite. So, a few simple precautions:

If Ranger is an outside dog with a thick double coat, is accustomed to frigid winter weather and has a sheltered place to get away from wind and rain, he can probably stay outside no matter what winter throws his way. But if he’s old, arthritic, or debilitated in some way or if his coat’s not heavy enough, let him sleep inside when the temperature dips below freezing.

If Riddle enjoys her daily excursions, by all means continue, but watch out for chemical ice-melting compounds on driveways, sidewalks, and streets. If you can’t avoid them, wipe her feet when you get back home so she doesn’t ingest the chemical when licking her paws. If the sidewalk is slushy, put some baby oil on Riddle’s feet before you go out to help prevent slushsicles from forming between the pads of her paws.

If your pet is a puppy or geriatric dog, don’t leave him outside without supervision, especially in snow. Dog feet can get very cold very quickly, especially on thin-coated dogs, and you may have to rescue a shivering pet who cannot walk across the snow.

Winter diet

Q: Now that it’s cold out, my dog seems to be hungrier even though I’m giving him the same amount he’s always had. Is it okay to feed him more?

A: Dogs may tend to eat more during cold weather, but inclement weather may prevent them from getting enough exercise to burn off extra calories. If Maestro begins begging at the table or looking particularly wistful when her dish is empty, beware of “just letting her lick the plates” or tossing her a bit of cheese or chicken when you’re fixing dinner. If you’re not careful, she’ll need an exercise regimen to slim her waist when spring rolls around.

Table scraps can be fed to dogs without ill effects if they replace some of the regular diet, not add to it. Just avoid spicy or fatty foods and keep portions small. A quarter or third cup of boiled chicken meat or turkey giblets in broth or a few left-over veggies (unbuttered, without sauce) can be a real treat for a pooch tantalized by the good smells coming from the kitchen.

Food tends to sit around the house during the holidays. Dogs quickly learn about hard candy in that bowl on the coffee table or the box of chocolates that the boss sent over. And they learn to cadge food from guests at a party or from kids who trail Christmas cookie crumbs throughout the house. Some dogs will eat wrappers and all in their haste to down the prize before discovery.

Chocolate, of course, is poisonous to dogs, but the toxicity depends on the amount of theobromine in the particular candy the dog has eaten. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate tend to be high in the substance; milk chocolate tends to have little. Shasta might eat a piece or two of milk chocolate with few or no ill effects, but a bar of baking chocolate could kill her.

Even if the ill-gotten gains don’t poison a pooch, they can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, constipation, or intestinal blockages – hardly worth the momentary acquiescence to pleading eyes and nagging of a hungry pet. Every successful food theft or begging session leads a pet further down the path to a life of crime. So, as with anti-freeze, the best bet is to control the dog’s access to food throughout the season. It’s not difficult to keep bowls of snack food out of reach, to confine the dog when people are eating, or to clean up the crumbs after snacks and meals to avoid creating a food felon. As with most things in life, preventing problems usually takes less effort than solving them.

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