Looking out at the fog that has settled into the valley below our Applegate home, it’s hard to believe that just a short time ago we were watching the news for wildfire alerts and wondering if was ever going to rain again. Now that we are well into winter here in Southern Oregon, we should take a moment to consider the effects this season has on the health and well-being of the animals under our care.
But first, my wife Becky and I would like to express heartfelt gratitude for all our new friends and acquaintances here in the Rogue Valley. Not very long ago, we bid farewell to Portland and steered a packed-to-the-ceiling U-Haul truck southward toward a very uncertain future. It was Thanksgiving eve, and we drove through the night, sharing the cramped confines of the vehicle’s cab with an array of anxious pets and traumatized houseplants. Now, four short years later, we feel that we are truly “home,” and we’re grateful to be part of this vibrant community. I would also like to thank everyone who has supported me and helped me to build my veterinary clinic into the successful practice it is today. It wouldn’t have been possible without the exceptional level of care, compassion and love that people here have for their animals. We are all fortunate to live in such a place.
Now back to the subject of winter. When the mercury drops, there’s nothing quite like the comforting flavor of fresh pumpkin pie. So why is it more appealing during the winter holidays than, say, during the Fourth of July? Think about the spices that go into a pumpkin pie:ginger,nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. All these spices are considered “warming” and “pungent” or invigorating, so it seems pretty obvious they’d be more appropriate in the colder, damper, darker and less active times of the year. I frequently see older dogs and other animals with arthritic symptoms that are worse in the winter, and I’ll recommend that clients grate some ginger root and cinnamon into the animal’s food. Broths are another example of a good winter food. A homemade broth from leftover turkey bones is a fantastic addition to your dog or cat’s dinner. It’s especially helpful for older, weaker animals that benefit from the high level of easily assimilated nutrients present in broths.
Another way to help understand health aspects of seasonal changes is the concept of blood flow dynamics. In the heat of the summer, there is relatively more blood on the skin (cooling) and other body surfaces, whereas in the colder months it is more internalized (protective). Studies have shown a higher incidence of certain diseases, such as heart failure, that occur in the winter when blood is congested internally rather than dispersed in the smaller vessels externally. Dry skin (and dry eyes) is often more an issue in animals in the winter due to the relative lack of nourishing and moisturizing blood flow on epithelial surfaces. Horses can suffer from “winter colic” because of a decrease of blood supply and function to the lining of their intestines, which is, if you think about it, another body surface area. Feeding our carnivores more nutrient-dense foods such as eggs, organ meats and broths are helpful to “build blood” during the time of year when certain parts of the body may not be getting enough. Herbivores such as goats and horses also benefit from foods higher in vitamins and minerals this time of year.
Another important consideration is exercise. While it’s natural for our animals and ourselves to be less active during the shorter, colder days, daily exercise is still important. Physical activity is warming and invigorating, and helps counteract the slower, consolidating influence of the winter season. It also helps to improve blood flow to areas of the body that need more circulation. Older animals with arthritic joints frequently have a harder time with colder temperatures, and benefit greatly from easy short, regular walks. With less activity, many animals tend to gain weight over the winter, so it may be necessary to cut back on their food. Our animals that live outdoors, however, frequently need more more carbohydrates and fats in the winter to generate heat despite reduced exercise.
I hope you’re enjoying the delights of the winter season here in Southern Oregon as much as Becky and I are. Happy holidays and blessings to you, your families, and all the “critters” that bring so much joy and value to our lives.
Dr. Judkins is the owner of AnimalKind Holistic Veterinary Clinic in Historic Jacksonville