You go to the vet for your pets annual check-up

You are happy that your dog/cat/rabbit is in perfect health.  However, you know there was something that you were supposed to ask your veterinarian. The question is tickling the back of your brain but your mind is blank. You have just had what is called a brain fart. The allusive questions we forget to ask but remember hours later.  It is so frustrating.

Because of my propensity to forget burring questions I have decided to do a blog post called Ask The Vet.  Once a month I am going to interview Millie (My hound’s) veterinarian asking her questions about our pets health.


Dr. Toni O’Hara and Baxter

Her name is Doctor Toni O’Hara and she works for Brackett Street Veterinary Clinic (East and West) in Portland Maine.  What are here qualifications?  Dr. O’Hara received her veterinary degree at the Royal Veterinary College in London England. After graduation in 2007, she gained invaluable experience in both equine and small animal practice. Her main interests are in small animal medicine and surgery, with an emphasis on holistic medicine.

Dr. O’Hara is a certified veterinary acupuncturist.  My Boo Radley got acupuncture from Dr. O’Hara when she was a senior dog. She would purr like a kitten while being poked with the needles.  It helped her with a number of ailments and made the end of her life much more comfortable.  No, she does not practice with humans!  I truly recommend acupuncture for your cat/dog/bunny…

Taking Care of Your Pet in Cold Weather

I asked Dr. O’Hara lots of questions and also videotaped our conversation.

It is warm outside today. A sweet 45 degrees but wait just a moment, this is New England and the weather can change in a red hot second. We have a lot of cold weather ahead of us.  I often worry about Millie Blu, my Weimaraner Hound mix.  She is a short haired gal who is walking around the streets of Portland just about naked. She has very little fur to keep her warm and insulated from the element.  I needed some advice on the best way to take care of her when the thermometer dips below freezing.

Who is Millie Blueberry?  This is Millie Blueberry. My sweet hound mix.

A disclaimer. This is advice from Dr. O’Hara and should be taken as just that. If you think your dog needs medical attention, call your vet or go there immediately. Do not take what I have written as the end all. Always go to your vet if you have questions or concerns about your animal’s health.”   This will be for all blog posts on Ask The Vet

Dr. O’Hara advice on taking care of your pet in cold weather. 

“The best thing is to be sensible with your pet. If it is too cold for you it will most likely be too cold for your pet. If your dog has health issues or is very old you may want to take him/her for shorter walks.  Make sure your dog/cat has their yearly wellness exam.  Cold weather may worsen some medical conditions such as arthritis. Your pet should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, and it’s as good a time as any to get him/her checked out to make sure (s)he is ready and as healthy as possible for cold weather.

Know the Limits of your pup

— Cold tolerance for animals is just like it is for people. Some are okay with the cold and some are not. Some of our dogs would love to head to Florida for the winter. Others can not get enough of it. Get to know your dog’s tolerance to cold.

— Old dogs and puppies may want shorter walks in the cold.

— Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with the snow-covered ground.

— Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes.

Bring out the coat and boots

— Having a swanky jacket is a good idea for the dog that gets cold easily. Considering it a layering piece.

— Boots… the verdict is out on that one. For some dogs with sensitive paws, the cold can be very painful. If your dog’s paws crack or bleed you may want to wrangle those boots onto their paws. It is worth the struggle.

Check your dog’s paws

— If their paws get too cold or dry they can crack and bleed.

— Make sure you look between their toes. Ice and snow can get between their toes and cause problems.

— Clip the fur on their feet so the snow and ice and snow does not ball up and hurt them.

— Keep nails clipped during the winter. (Veterinarians see a lot of cracked and broken nails in the winter.)

— If you see blood or discharge on their paws, start using the booties and call your vet.

Dr. O’Hara is a big fan of Mushers Wax.  She finds that the wax helps keep their paws warm, creates a barrier with the road salt and antifreeze, and in her opinion, it can work better than the booties.  This is for some dogs not all.

Wiping your dog’s feet after a walk is a great idea. This will get the salt and also antifreeze and other chemicals off their paws. (Which they will lick off) For shorter dogs, check their bellies. They will also come into contact with yucky stuff.

Identification with chips/collars

— Make sure your dog has a collar on with identification.

— Has your pet microchipped? A lost dog without tags is in serious danger in the winter. They need to be identified fast if they need medical care.

— Many pets become lost in winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find his/her way back home.

Signs of hypothermia and Frostbite

— Whining

— Shivering

— Anxious

— Dullness

— Stops Moving

It can be hard to detect frostbite until you see it. Yes, dogs ears, noses and paws, and tails can get frostbite. Just like human digits can get frostbite from exposure. Call your vet if you suspect frostbite.

Your Pup’s Weight

— Don’t feed your dog more thinking that the extra weight will help him stay warm. Just like humans, it will be hard to take off that weight when the weather turns nice. An overweight dog is an unhealthy dog.

Eating Poop and Snow

— There’s no magic pill that will stop them from eating frozen poop.  Avoidance is the only way.

— Snow is not great to eat as well. It will drop their body temperature.

Prevent poisoning

— Clean up any antifreeze spills quickly, as even small amounts of antifreeze can be deadly. Make sure your pets don’t have access to medication bottles, household chemicals, potentially toxic foods such as onions, xylitol (a sugar substitute) and chocolate.

Outdoor temperature, when is it too cold to be outside?

— For outdoor dogs and cats, they should be inside and have shorter walks if it is under 20 degrees.  They can get frostbite very fast.

— Under 15 degrees it is too dangerous to be outdoors for long periods of time. Especially if it is windy. Bring them inside or find them appropriate shelter.

— If you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. A heated dog house is nice. But make sure there is nothing to make it a fire hazard.

— The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment.

— Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen clean water.


— Cats and other critters can crawl into your car’s engine to stay out of the elements.

— It is a good idea to BANG on the hood of your car before you start the engine to give them a chance to get out.

Avoid Ice and Frozen Ponds

— If your dog falls through the ice, do not follow them. You will both drown and win that horrible Darwin Award. No one wants that.  Call for help.

These are some of the questions that I remembered to ask Dr. O’Hara. I am sure there were plenty that I forgot. If you have additional questions please call your vet or check out AVAMA.ORG. This website has tons of information on animal care.

Want to get your pet some swanky winter swag!

There are so many great shops in Portland to buy your pup a winter jacket, boots, or mushers wax and more. Here are some of my favorite places.

The Dog Wash Etc. 1o37 Forest Ave in Portland. This is where I get just about everything for Mille.  They have a great selection of food and they have a Delivery Service. You can pick up winter clothing, treats, toys and more. One of my favorite purchases was actually for myself. I bought spikes for my boots. I was so sick of slipping on the ice while walking the dog. You can also use them for hiking.
Uncommon Paws This is a relatively new shop on Exchange Street. It is across the street from my studio and next to the Holy Donut.  You can get your dog a spiffy new outfit, have a delicious donut treat, and then a pet portrait session with Dana Berenson Photography!  What a great day!

Millie says,  “goodbye, for now, don’t despair spring will be here soon enough.

The next Ask The Vet will be about dental health. I will be doing this sooner than later because February is Dental Awareness Month.

Dr. O’Hara and Baxter.

That is it for today. Leave me a note if you have an idea for Ask the Vet.