Cowboys and Canines

Written by Contributor. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on January 05, 2012 with No Comments

Even though we are enjoying a mild winter thus far, sadly, this will change and inclement weather will bring an increase in several seasonally observed conditions if certain precautions aren’t taken.

First among them is frostbite.  Even though wild animals and feral cats are adept at finding adequate shelter in the most hostile environments, those animals suffering from the ravages of other illnesses, trauma or age are particularly predisposed.


Hypothermia (low body temperature) is a subject of which volumes can be written, such as saving drowning victims under water for one or two hours.  We will restrict our discussion to just the freezing tissues.  Commonly affected areas in cats are the pinnae of the ears (tips), tail and footpads.  In dogs, the external genitalia and footpads are at most risk for frostbite.  The fact that hair is sparse in these areas contributes to the risk factors.


In extreme temperatures it is natural to shut or divert blood away from “non-critical” areas of the body from the extremities to the vital organs.  In a relatively short period of time avascular necrosis (death of the tissue due to lack of blood supply) will occur.  It is a cascading of events starting with the blood supply being compromised and ending with the sloughing away of tissue.  Tissue necrosis is increased if subsequent refreezing occurs after an affected part has been thawed.


Causes other than exposure to cold air are contact with cold metal, glass or liquids.  A special admonition would go to those of you who have just moved to this cold climate without time to acclimate to these conditions.


Initially, the affected tissue is cool, pale and anesthetic.  As the tissue “thaws,” it becomes reddened, swollen and can be very painful.  The attending veterinarian needs to give moderate to strong analgesics.  Supportive care is of paramount importance.  Warm compresses or immersion in warm water, antibiotics, prevention of self-trauma to affected areas are a few important considerations.


Curiously, leaving warm, reddened and swollen areas exposed to the air is of great benefit.  Also, a high protein, high caloric diet with vitamins can be beneficial.


If a tissue has been irrevocably damaged, it will take 4-7 days to begin to see a characteristic “line of demarcation” separating dead and viable tissue.  Therefore, premature debridement of tissue should not be performed.  Mother Nature can be kind and occasionally wondrous in her healing powers.  But it takes 15-20 days to fully outline the nonviable areas and will look as we expect a gangrenous area to appear as.  At this point, amputation of the affected part is indicated.


Sadly, if we experience an extraordinarily bad winter, I expect to see a significant increase in the number of animals with some disfiguring feature, as lost ear tips, tail or limbs this summer.  Intellectually, I understand this is part of nature’s plan, i.e., survival of the fittest.  But, it is impossible to look at this magnificent desolation from a warm house and not be overwhelmed with a sense of sadness over what we all know is taking place.

As a sidebar to this discussion, cats are notorious for seeking warm, secluded areas.  The engine block of your vehicle is well suited to this end.  Therefore, if you haven’t seen your cat and your car is in the garage or even outside (if your cat is allowed outdoors), it may behoove you to open your hood and check first.  Fan belt injuries and fatalities are all too common in this weather.  Although, recent engine designs have to a certain degree diminished this from occurring.


With snow and ice storms a fait accompli, we must be prepared for the resurgence of several foot problems we see in our pets during this winter weather period.  Besides the obvious threat of frost bite to the extremities, two problems could potentially become commonplace. 


First, as we are all aware, a great deal of salt is applied to sidewalks, streets, etc.  Rock salt has been used on our streets since the ‘40’s.  Now most of the rock salt used on roads is chemically treated.  And as most of us are aware a spate of ice melting agents are available to all of us as close as our nearest hardware store.  Succinctly, these range from plain and chemically treated rock salt and several formulations using calcium or potassium chloride. 


If one must use some form of de-icing chemicals always try to use one that is not only safe for your driveway but one that prominently advertises  itself as pet friendly.  One caveat should always be remembered:  they all have the potential for causing serious skin irritation to sensitive skin.  Also, excessive licking of the chemically covered feet may cause serious vomiting and diarrhea.  Therefore, if we are to be assiduously careful to preclude any problems, keep towels and warm water at the door after walking on a surface applied with any form of salt.  Our aim should be the immediate removal of these agents as well as dirt, mud or ice. 


Special feet coverings can be purchased at some pet supply stores.  The clinical sign usually first observed are excessive licking of the paws, reddened interdigital areas and lameness in the first hour after returning inside.  Remember, if it can segregate your concrete, imagine what it could do to your pet’s sensitive skin!


A second and more serious injury which may require emergency attention is that of lacerated feet, pads and associated structures.  These are very vascular areas and tend to bleed profusely.  Curiously enough, these are ice lacerations which are more common that glass cuts.  It is recommended that pets being walked on ice prone areas should avoid unplowed sidewalks or particularly rough terrain. 


It struck me recently that if those denizens of our Congress could own and love a pet, I cannot help but believe they would be more aware of unqualified love, the helpless, the homeless and the unfulfilled.  I pray everyone had a safe and happy holiday season.

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