RUMFORD – Animal care professionals are advising people of the potential dangers of seasonal plants, substances and cold temperatures to household pets.

Dr. Frederick Kent of Countryside Animal Hospital in Rumford said he sees more cats at this time of year because they ingest Christmas tree tinsel and poinsettias. He said tinsel and thin ribbons can cause serious blockages in the cat’s intestines and poinsettias can irritate their mouths and bowels.

He also said outdoor cats are often reluctant to go outside during the winter to relieve themselves, sometimes resulting in the creation of crystals which can lead to urinary tract infections. He suggested that owners of outdoor cats keep a litter box for their pets during the winter months.

Marsha McKenna, owner of McKennel’s Animal Adoption Agency, said she often sees dogs chained outside for hours in brutally cold weather. Although many owners are well-intentioned when they use blankets, cushions, mattresses or towels as bedding, such materials are likely to freeze into blocks that provide no protection from cold weather.

Kathy Farren, a 14-year veterinary technician at Bethel Animal Hospital, said 4 to 6 inches of hay or shavings is the preferred bedding material. Also, the doghouse should be at least three-sided, and have a covering for the entrance on the fourth side.

Cold weather causes other potentially dangerous problems for pets, as well, Farren said.

She warns pet owners that leaking anti-freeze can be licked up by any animal and cause its death.

“It’s poison and it tastes good,” she said, adding that pet-safe antifreeze is available.

Rumford’s pet ordinance outlines the proper housing of domestic animals, including facing the doghouse toward the south or away from the direction most wind blows, and having the floor at least three inches from the ground.

Farren said dogs should not be left outside when the temperature dips below 20 degrees, or at higher temperatures if wind chill is a factor.

“We’ve seen the end of tails, ears and feet get frostbite in dogs and we’ve seen the ends of the ears of kittens gone because of frostbite,” she said.

Monique Aniel, coordinator for Maine Friends of Animals for the Rumford-Bridgton district, said dogs should be off their chains at least a few hours everyday. The organization, based in Falmouth, has succeeded in getting state legislation passed that requires the chain that tethers an animal to be at least five times the length of the dog, and the group is campaigning against keeping a dog chained 24-hours-a-day.

Other cold weather tips include:

• Change water frequently as cold weather freezes it quickly;

• Rock salt used to melt ice can be an irritant to pets’ feet; it should be rinsed off the animal when it comes inside;

• Because an animal left outside uses more energy to keep warm, it should be fed more than the usual amount of food.

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