Does the cooler weather cause your bones to ache and your allergies to flare? Well, you're not the only one. Pets also suffer from winter woes. 'In the winter all sorts of pollens blow in from the mainland, causing allergic reactions in dogs, and cats too,' says Dr Richard Potter, senior veterinarian at East Island Animal Hospital. 'Dogs start scratching in the winter. They can get flared and irritated skin, and not because it's hot and sticky out.' Potter says the pollens can cause a host of skin problems such as watery eyes, sneezing and breathing difficulties. According to the veterinarian, on the days when the air pollution is high, about one-third of the animals he examines has a weather-related ailment. 'There's more pollution and debris in the air when you can't see across the harbour,' says Potter, who graduated from the University of Queensland. He says pet owners can buy eye drops and ointments for pets to relieve itchy eyes. Another way to get relief is to turn on the air conditioner. 'A lot of people don't use air conditioning in the winter, but in fact it's a good way of cleaning the air,' Potter says. 'The air tends to be rather dirty and cats with asthma will suffer on thick soupy days.' Treatment for feline asthma is similar to that for humans, says Potter, with drugs and inhalers common remedies. Rabbits are the most sensitive pet to pollutants and dry air. 'They will have much more trouble with pollution than any other species,' says Potter. Another winter woe is arthritis in dogs. 'The low temperature in the winter for very old dogs and apartment dogs causes a sharp differential,' says Potter. With dogs around 10 to 12 years old, they will be more prone to degenerative changes, and it will become worse in the winter. Potter says dogs that seem stiff and uncomfortable in the morning and don't want to walk may have arthritis. He also says dogs in Hong Kong are more prone to spinal problems involving slipped discs and neck pains due to their apartment-bound confinement. 'Dogs tend to live in apartments and are not fit. These are pets that spend their time mooching about. If I just mooched about in the summer, I'd be pretty sore too,' he says. Dogs with little exercise can easily hurt themselves, explains Potter. Breeds such as shih-tzu, Pekinese, pugs, Boston terriers and any heavy yet small-frame dogs relative to their leg size can have joint problems that affects arthritis. These dogs may encounter additional problems if kept on the floor, as Potter points out that the temperature difference between the floor and room temperature at a human's height can be up to 10 degrees Celsius. While cats can have arthritis, Potter says they are not as heavy so they will less likely have joint problems. Dr Kylie Griffin, of The Ark Veterinary Hospital, agrees problems such as arthritis increase in the winter. She describes arthritis as a degenerative disease that is sometimes brought on by a congenital malformation of a joint. 'It does seem to get worse in cold weather,' she says. 'Some dogs are born with a joint that wasn't properly formed. It's worse in many big dogs like German shepherds, labradors and retrievers with hip dysplasia.' She also explains the patella, or kneecap, can slip in and out, especially in small dogs such as poodles and Yorkshire terriers, and this produces an unstable joint. 'As they get older they get arthritis from the wear and tear,' Griffin says. An injury can also trigger a slipped kneecap. 'This arthritis can be very severe. If a dog has been asleep, they can be very stiff when they go to stand up,' she says. While medication and glucosamine supplements can ease arthritic pain, Griffin recommends weight loss as a significant factor in reducing excess stress in joints. Another wintertime ailment is feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). 'In the summer, there are not as many cases. But as soon as it gets cold, cats don't move all day and because they are inactive from being overweight, this makes them more prone [to FLUTD],' Griffin says. She says the disease is strongly linked to breed choice, being more prevalent in British shorthair, American shorthair, exotic shorthair and domestic shorthair breeds. The problem frequently occurs in the s-bend configuration of a cat's penis. 'The system of loops and bends [in the penis] blocks up and then the cat can't pass urine at all. This problem will cause crystals and gunk to plug up,' explains Griffin. 'It's a big problem for male cats.' She says within three days of not urinating, the kidneys will shut down, causing acute renal failure and death. While uncommon in female cats, it's possible for them to contract FLUTD. For both male and female cats, FLUTD symptoms may include becoming very distressed, unresponsive, loss of appetite, tiny blood spots in the urine, urinating in unusual places, and crying while straining to pass urine as they go in and out of the litter box. The quicker you bring your pet to the veterinarian, the better the treatment and less invasive, advises Griffin. Apart from death, she says the worse-case scenario is an operation, which involves widening and cutting the urethra canal, basically 'you would take away the penis and open it up.' Griffin believes another possible cause of FLUTD is a high-magnesium diet, which tends to be found in fish-flavoured foods. Tips to prevent FLUTD include ensuring your cat drinks plenty of fresh water and has a clean litter box. 'You need one litter box per cat, and anything that makes them urinate less might make them more prone to [FLUTD],' she says.