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5 Winter Illnesses That Can Affect Your Dog

Winter weather can be harsh between the freezing temperatures, snowstorms and slippery ice. That doesn't deter many dogs though, who love snow or at least find it fascinating and fun. To them, it may seem like a winter wonderland but there are some risks of illness. Here are five common winter illnesses that can affect your dog:

1. Hypothermia

Hypothermia is the condition when body temperature drops dangerously low. It occurs when the body gives off more heat than it absorbs during exposure to the cold. The combination of wet and cold in winter can become dangerous - for instance, wet fur can freeze and lead to hypothermia.

Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, lethargy, weakness, fur and skin that's cold to the touch, decreased heart rate, dilated pupils, pale or blue gums and inner eyelids, trouble breathing or walking, and stupor or unconsciousness. If your dog's temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it indicates hypothermia. In this case, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible and try to warm them with blankets or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel.

To prevent hypothermia, avoid going outside in the cold for prolonged periods of time. You can also equip your pup with a coat or sweater to insulate his or her body and keep fur dry as well as booties to protect his or her paws. 

2. Frostbite

Related to hypothermia is frostbite, which is minor to severe tissue damage from extreme cold temperatures. The risk of frostbite depends on the individual dog and their size, age and thickness of fur (as well as how long he or she has been exposed to the cold). Fur and skin that's wet from snow or ice increases the risk of developing frostbite.

Symptoms of frostbite are categorized into three levels: first degree (pale, hard skin at the extremities that turns scaly and then red and swollen when warmed), second degree (blistering on the skin), and third degree (skin darkening, often over several days, and potential development of gangrene).

If you notice signs of frostbite, bring your dog inside immediately and apply lukewarm water to the affected areas on their body. Don't massage frostbitten areas since that can cause pain. Take your dog to the vet immediately as emergency care is required to safely warm him or her. In addition, painkillers and antibiotics may need to be prescribed.

To prevent frostbite, avoid going out in extreme temperatures for too long or often. Using dog bootie and outerwear can also help as they will protect your pet's fur, skin and paws and keep them dry.

3. Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough (or canine infectious tracheobronchitis) is a contagious respiratory disease often contracted at boarding facilities. But winter temperatures can increase the risk of developing the disease. 

The main symptom of kennel cough is a goose-like, honking cough (not the same as the “reverse sneeze” common in brachycephalic breeds). Other symptoms of kennel cough include sneezing, runny nose and eye discharge. Also be aware that pneumonia, tuberculosis and other serious respiratory issues have similar symptoms. Mild kennel cough can sometimes be treated at home with a humidifier or other steam treatment but if it persists, visit your vet so they can give your dog some antibiotics.

To prevent kennel cough, there are a few options. For starters, there's an available vaccine for your dog that can help prevent the disease. Also, consider at-home pet sitting if your dog is very young, very old or has any preexisting conditions. If you think your dog has potentially been infected, quarantine him or her until you can get vet care.

4. Common Cold

Just like people, dogs can catch a cold in the winter. It's typically not serious, usually ending up as a minor upper respiratory infection. Symptoms include slight coughing, a wetter-than-normal nose, and some fatigue or lethargy. If symptoms don't improve within a few days, see your vet. Sometimes your dog will need antibiotics to get rid of more stubborn colds. 

To treat a cold or cold-related conditions, use a humidifier around your dog. If you don't have one, take your dog into the bathroom with you while you shower for the steam. Warm foods can also be comforting to your pup and make sure keep any sick pets quarantined. It's recommended you young puppies, old dogs and those with any preexisting conditions to the vet, as they may not be able to fight the cold or could experience other complications because of it.

5. Antifreeze Poisoning

Antifreeze contains a chemical called ethylene glycol, which gives the liquid a sweet taste. Because of this, pets tend to lick it off garage floors, sidewalks and streets. Sometimes it can be found in toilet bowls in homes that use antifreeze on pipes for the winter.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include nausea and vomiting, trouble walking (wobbly, almost as if drunk), seizures and coma. Call your vet immediately if you see any of these signs and they will guide you in the next steps.

To prevent antifreeze poisoning, store all automotive and household chemicals away from pets in an unreachable and a securely closed place. Clean any garage spills quickly and look into pet-friendly ways to treat your pipes for winter. In addition, use dog booties on winter walks or wipe your pup's paws after being outside to protect against licking any antifreeze that may have been on the ground.

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