By Pat Maurer
The American Veterinary Medical Association says, “You’re probably already aware of the risks posed by warm weather and leaving pets in hot cars, but did you know that cold weather also poses serious threats to your pets’ health?”
Recently that has been true for the mid-Michigan area and particularly in Clare County where the temperature has been dipping into the single digits.
The AVMA wrote, “Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it’s untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods in below-freezing weather.”
The Clare County Animal Shelter is now housing 15 to 20 dogs now and about 13 cats. They are protected, but there are many more, strays out there without homes, who are seeking shelter when the thermometer drops down in mid-winter.
If the weather is cold and you are leaving to run an errand, make some noise before starting your vehicle the Veteran’s Association warned. “A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it’s deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood.”
Clare County Animal Control Officer Bob Dodson said the Animal Shelter has been busy with cold weather calls. He shares the work with his boss, Animal Control Officer and Shelter Director Rudy Hicks. “We have dropped off food, straw to keep animals warm and even delivered a new dog house to a Farwell home,” Dodson said.
“If it is cold, or even frigid outside and you don’t like being out there, your dog or cat doesn’t like it either,” he warned.
Dodson, who was the 2018 Animal Control Officer of the Year, added, “If it’s cold out, bring your pet inside. If that isn’t possible, make sure your dog (or cat) has a warm place they can get into when it is below freezing outside.
The post by the AVMA said, “Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly.”
Dodson added, “Your pet’s doghouse should fit your dog. Don’t put a small dog in a big doghouse or a big dog in a small one. Make the doghouse size close to the size of the dog. A doghouse that is just big enough for your pet to turn around in is best…and make sure your animal has a doghouse or shelter with lots of straw,” he added. “Straw is the best to keep pets warm. Don’t use blankets for animal bedding because they can get wet and freeze.”
“And,” he added, “Make sure your animal or animals have fresh water and food every day. If they are chained the chain should be three times the length of the dogs body from nose to tail so they can roam and get exercise.”
Another tip Dodson gave was that a wooden doghouse is best to keep heat in and it should not face into the wind. “If your dog will use it,” he said, “put some type of flap over the door.”
He said, “If your dog is sitting and keeps lifting his feet up, check his pads. They may be freezing.”
The AVMA said, “Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes.”
The post by the Veteran’s Association continued, “Just like people, pets’ cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather, and adjust accordingly.”
The post continued, “You will probably need to shorten your dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. 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 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. The same goes for very young and very old pets. If you need help determining your pet’s temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.”
Another winter must – When you take your pet for a walk, your dog’s feet legs and belly may pick up de-icers, antifreeze or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you bring them back in, wash or wipe down their legs, feet and belly, so if they lick themselves, they won’t injest a chemical that is poisonous. There are pet-safe de-icers available to protect yours and other animals in your neighborhood.
Pets rely on their nose to find their way. Many can get lost in winter when snow and ice hide the scents that normally help them navigate to get back home. Make sure your pet has a well-fitting collar with up-to-date contact information. A microchip is the best means of identification.
If your pet is outside and is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done.
If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.