Pet Health: Keep Fido Fit as a Fiddle

Dr. Stuart Dalton from White Bear Animal Hospital offers tips for keeping pets healthy as the weather cools.
A few of the accoutrements you can use to keep your four-legged friends healthy.

Fall in Minnesota is a wild card among seasons, with weather extremes that can range from summer-like, 80-degree weather to plowable snow. It’s the time to get ready for the long winter ahead—for pet owners, too. Dr. Stuart Dalton, owner of White Bear Animal Hospital, offers some tips to keep your dogs and cats healthy.

1. Coat Care

With the shift to cooler weather, it’s important to make sure pets have healthy coats to keep them warm. That means regularly brushing your pet to avoid matting; if your cat has long hair, you will need to brush daily.

Some dog breeds develop heavier coats for the winter, especially those that live or spend most of their time outdoors. Indoors, shedding becomes a problem, especially with long-haired breeds. Regular brushing is the best way to manage dog hair, Dalton notes.

2. Wood Ticks

Ticks pose a hazard to both dogs and cats, especially in or near rural areas. People probably pay more attention to the tick hazard during the summer, but fail to realize that “ticks are still a problem in the fall,” Dalton says. Lyme disease vaccinations and collars to repel ticks are good preventive measures. Of course, inspecting your pet after spending time outdoors is also important.

3. Exercise

Some of the “human” rules for exercise also apply to pets. First, you need to make sure your dog is healthy enough to exercise. “With any exercise program, you need to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration.” There are ways to make exercise more engaging for the pet; fly ball, agility exercises and herding classes are among the ideas Dalton suggests for dogs.

In winter, you need to pay more attention to your pet’s feet; snow and ice and, especially, the de-icing salt used on sidewalks and driveways can cause problems. Pet stores carry small booties for dogs and cats that can be worn to protect the feet. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to wipe off your pet’s feet when it comes indoors, or dunk their feet in a bucket of water.

4. Diet

Dalton says one common mistake dog owners make is failing to reduce the amount of food a dog eats in winter. Many count on the hope that their dog will burn off any extra weight when spring and summer arrive, but the dog is better off not gaining the extra weight in the first place, Dalton says. Cutting back on daily food by about 25 percent going into the winter makes sense in most cases. Maintaining a healthy weight is equally important for cats.

5. Allergies

The change of seasons can also aggravate dogs and cats’ allergies caused by outdoor pollens, grasses and molds. For dogs spending time outdoors, ragweed is often an issue. However, many pet allergies are caused by environmental conditions indoors, Dalton says. Pets may be allergic to dust, dust mites or the fibers in home carpeting. A high-quality, high-filtration furnace filter can make a big difference in indoor air quality.

To control allergies, over-the-counter antihistamines [pet-specific varieties, but they can take small doses of Benadryl] and prescription steroids are among the options, “working up the scale as needed, from the simplest drug to the most aggressive,” Dalton explains.

6. Pet Treats

Some dog and cat owners like to bake their own pet treats rather than buying them; there are plenty of healthy pet treat recipes readily available on reputable pet-care websites. Pet treats should be low in fat and sugar. For dogs, avoid grapes, raisins, nuts, onions, garlic, avocados and, of course, chocolate. For cats, avoid raisins, avocados, onions, garlic, raw eggs and dairy products.