With an arctic air mass slamming much of the U.S., it might be an opportune time to pass along some pet care tips from veterinarians and other pet experts. It's not just humans who can be threatened by extreme cold – animals can be too.
People, after all, can wear multiple layers of clothing. Animals have their fur and that's it. And that doesn't provide as much protection from the cold as you might think.
"While it's easy to think that dogs are immune to cold because of their fur, the fact is that more dogs perish in the winter than at any other time of the year," said Joel Hersh, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team (PASART). "Some are better able to handle the cold than others, but taking a few simple precautions can ensure an enjoyable winter experience for both pets and their families."
Cold weather precautions
Hersh's organization says that, as a matter of course you should never leave puppies, smaller dogs, older dogs or cats outdoors when the temperature falls below 40 degrees. If you have a dog or cat that stays outside much of the time in the winter, make sure they have a proper shelter raised several inches off the ground with a flap over the entry.
Inside there should be a fresh blanket, cedar shavings or straw to keep the pet warm. The shelter should be large enough that your pet can sit and stand, but small enough so the pet's body heat will be retained in the house.
The water bowl should be plastic not metal. If you have seen the classic Christmas film “A Christmas Story,” you might recall the scene in which a kid's tongue gets stuck to a flag pole. It's no laughing matter. Your pet's tongue can stick to a metal bowl if it gets cold enough.
The Humane Society suggests putting water in a thick plastic container that is both deep and wide, giving it better insulation. Placing it in an area where it will get direct sunlight will provide some solar heat that can keep the food or water from freezing.
Don’t put water bowls inside the shelter. Water is easily spilled, and a wet shelter will feel more like a refrigerator than a warm cozy bed.
Neighborhood and stray cats
In winter weather you not only have to look out for your own cat, but you neighbor's as well. Remember that cats seeking a bit of warmth outdoors will curl up inside car engines. Cats caught in moving engine parts can be seriously hurt or killed. To guard against this mishap tap on the hood a few times or even blow the horn before starting up.
If you own a short-haired breed of dog, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests you have your pet wear a coat or sweater that covers the base of the tail to the belly when you go on walks. The group also says it is important to wipe the dogs feet on your return, since licking their paws could result in ingestion of salt and anti-freeze.
In bitterly cold weather some pets need to be indoors. Veterinarians say older or arthritic pets fall into that category. You should take older dogs outside for toileting and use a leash if the yard has ice or snow. Older dogs can easily fall and seriously injure themselves.
Just like people dogs can suffer from frostbite. Dogs' ears, paws and tails are especially susceptible, and if you suspect frostbite, contact your veterinarian. Always be alert for signs of hypothermia such as shivering, lethargy, low heart rate and unresponsiveness.