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You may have felt him even around Labor Day: a little breeze with just a little more sting, the uncontrollable need to put on a sweater and sip cocoa, the light getting just a bit shorter. You looked around and said, “You, already?” Old Man Winter comes down for a few recon missions before he settles in for the seemingly endless expanse of grey bleakness. It’s just his way of saying, “Prepare my room and board because I am coming for an extended stay. I don’t give up, just because climatologists say I’ve changed. I still have the power to make you miserable.”

Bulldog in the snowIn the pre-season, if you will, here are some things to think about for our pets. The fleas know the old guy is coming, so keep up with the preventatives. They are doing everything to hop on something with blood so they can get into a warm place and sit out the cold.

The fox population is out and about all the time, but for whatever reason, there is more contact with them and their lairs in the fall. (We guess that they roam more to get more food for the winter, since the mice are on the move, too.) This means scabies: that wonderful mite that makes the dogs scratch like crazy right around the autumnal allergy season, and insists on not being diagnosed since it is more of an allergic reaction to the mites then the sheer numbers of them.

You can get it too, but not as bad as the dog would, since the critters are host adapted. Look for non-stop itching especially on the elbows knees and ear tips. If you’ve got a local fox looking like a chupacabra, you have transient rashes, and your dog is itching, you may have a scabies patient. Nice that they show up to confuse the diagnosis of inhalant allergies at this time of year, isn’t it?

Another thing to watch out for is a walking pneumonia. It always seems to be a young, healthy hunting dog that usually doesn’t cough but just isn’t doing well. We aren’t sure what to do to prevent it, since we aren’t sure of the cause. The damp air in the early mornings gets some hunter sick too, so why not their dogs. Perhaps, they aspirate a little pond water here and there when out in sticks. We seem to get one a year, and it’s always a hunting dog in good shape that has not been in a kennel. They may be breathing more rapidly, but for the most part they are just “ADR” (Ain’t Doing Right).

As far as winter goes, the main thing we worry about with our patients is arthritis and weight gain. Less activity due to cold or inclement weather, less light so less time for activity, and we’ve got a recipe for weight gain. It may be time to start your planning for exercise adjustments, such as warming up your pets ahead for the exercise. Doing more brief exercises broken up if it is bitter cold, especially for your geriatric pets, is a good idea.

If your pet is older, a glucosamine supplement is always recommended. This lubricates the joints. Being loose is always good for exercise, but in winter the benefit is more noticeable. If it takes your pet a half hour to get loose in the good weather, anything you can do to lubricate joints in the winter would be helpful. And really, if they need it in the winter, they need it all year - it just may not be as noticeable. At our Anwell Rehab facility, we can always do conditioning exercises and make recommendations for low-impact exercises tailored to your pet’s specific needs. We also have a “fat camp” for weight loss!

Keeping your dog in shape is especially good in the long run. We can’t tell you how many patients have blown out their cruciate ligaments in their knees when they burn rubber on the first warm day they seen in a few months. It’s not just the slipping on the ice; it is quite often that their muscles have deteriorated just enough over the extended periods of inactivity that what might have been a tweak becomes a tear. Yes, there is big genetic component to anterior cruciate ligament disease, but trauma certainly plays into it, especially if the ligaments are weaker from a decrease in activity. (And if it still happens despite good exercise, they will be in better shape for recovery from the surgery.)

Fall and winter also mean the come of the overeating holidays, with chocolate being readily available in large amounts. Even if no toxic doses are achieved, you may be spending some Christmas money on a carpet cleaning service. Inform the little ones and watch what they drop. Once it’s on the floor, the pet has first right to refusal, and you would be lucky to even see the item. (It is almost pointless to ask my dog what she is eating. It is already past tense by the time we notice it and get the words out.)

Watch for the carcasses and ham bones, too. Also, the holidays have a lot of non-toxic things that just really upset the stomach of a critter that gets a regular diet, simply because its stomach juts isn’t used to it. Keep of journal of what is available and empty the trash quickly, because you just can’t watch them all the time. Just because you didn’t offer it to them, doesn’t mean they didn’t get into it on their own, or some well-meaning relative didn’t offer something under the table.

And if stress can affect us around the holidays, it certainly can affect our pets, especially if not used to company. They don’t need to get into anything to get a bout of colitis. Stress alone can do it.

Wishing you and your family a great holiday season - without any veterinary emergencies!

Dr. Brian G'Sullivan has been practicing veterinary medicine in eastern Pennsylvania since 1997. He is a graduate of Syracuse University and earned his DVM degree from the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine.