Five common health conditions we treat in winter
November 14, 2023
In summer it’s grass seeds and heat strokes, but as winter approaches we see a new set of common health concerns here at the practice …
To help educate owners our Veterinary Surgeon Patrick von Heimendahl has listed the five most common ailments we treat and how best to avoid them.
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Five common health conditions we treat in winter
1. Respiratory infections
Over winter, our dogs often spend more time in indoors. This increase in indoor time and potential proximity to other dogs can lead to a spread of respiratory infections. Typical symptoms to look out for include sneezing, coughing and laboured breathing. Respiratory infections may require a course of antibiotic treatment and other supportive management to resolve the infection.
Kennel Cough (canine infectious respiratory disease) is one of the most common types of respiratory infections. It can affect all breeds and ages, but can be particularly nasty for young, old, and unwell dogs. Kennel cough can be picked up anywhere that is frequented by other dogs, not just in kennels, and the best form of protection is an annual kennel cough vaccination.
2. Salt and chemical exposure
When the temperature drops enough for it to become icy, exposure to the salt or antifreeze used to melt both ice and snow can be toxic to dogs.
We often see cases where a dog has walked on a path which has been thawed using salt. They will then lick their paws, ingesting the salt and can become very sick. Look out for vomiting, diarrhoea and skin irritation and get into the habit of washing your dog’s paws and tummy with warm water following a walk. Its also a good idea to scrape your car clear of ice in the mornings rather than resorting to chemicals, as antifreeze is extremely poisonous for dogs and cats (and not very good for the environment either!)
Many dog breeds have adapted to cold weather, and have lovely warm fur coats to protect them from the winter chill, but the finer breeds, and those bred typically for hotter climates, will struggle in the colder temperatures. Patrick advises that hypothermia can occur in dogs when their fur becomes wet, or they are exposed to cold temperatures for a long period of time. Symptoms of hypothermia in dogs include shivering, lethargy, and difficulty walking.
Hypothermia is extremely dangerous for dogs; if it isn’t treated promptly, it can cause the whole body to shut down.
If you notice any of the symptoms above, bring your dog inside and wrap them in a blanket – first drying them if they are wet. Contact us on 01223 359021 and then start to warm your dog up slowly, near (but not too close to) a fire or radiator, or using a heat pad.
If your dog has a fine coat they will probably appreciate a warm and waterproof coat to wear on winter walks.
Frostbite occurs when dogs are exposed to cold temperatures for too long and the skin and underlying tissue layers start to freeze. This is more common in dogs with thin fur and exposed skin such as sighthounds. Symptoms include swelling and discolouration of the skin. Areas to monitor are the tips of the ears, the tip of the tail and paws. We treat frostbite by slowly warming the affected area but care must be taken to not further damage the tissue.
If you suspect your dog may have frostbite, contact us straight away on 01223 359021.
5. Foreign body ingestion and toxicity
With winter comes the Christmas and New Year festivities. Alcohol and chocolate are often more readily available in homes during the winter period but it is important to keep such items out of reach of dogs (and other pets). Both chocolate and alcohol are toxic to dogs and cause severe poisoning. Look out for symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst, panting, restlessness, excessive urination, and a very high heart rate. Contact us immediately if you suspect your dog has ingested a toxic substance.
Christmas decorations can also be tempting for dogs to play with, often accidentally swallowing them. This may lead to emergency surgery so take extra care to only use appropriate decorations and monitor your dog to keep them safe.
Pre-winter health check
If you have any concerns about your dogs ability to cope with the challenges of winter, we recommend a health check ahead of the colder weather so we can rule out any conditions or advise on how best to manage existing ones.
The cold can often exacerbate arthritis and joint pain in dogs. This will make exercising uncomfortable for your dog. Icy paths and muddy/snowy walks can be difficult for any dog to navigate, especially if they are struggling with a joint condition, and can result in injuries. The temperature can also increase viral infections so it’s worth ensuring your dog is up to date with their booster vaccinations – book now. Older dogs may benefit from shorter walks in particularly cold weather. You can always increase indoor activity and games to keep them mentally and physically fit.
A pre-winter health check can help to ensure your pet is entering the festive season fighting fit. Contact us on 01223 359021 to book a health check for your dog, or call us with any questions or concerns.