By Lindsay Pollard-Post
There’s nothing like cozying up in front of a crackling fire with a blanket and a hot drink on a frosty evening — especially if our animal family members are there to share the warmth. The cold can take a toll on animals, too — and it can even be deadly. That’s why, when the mercury drops, it’s vital not only to take extra precautions with our own dogs and cats but also to watch out for strays and other less fortunate animals.
Dogs’ and cats’ fur coats might look toasty, but they don’t provide adequate protection from the elements — especially for those who are short-haired, small, young or elderly. For them, sweaters and coats aren’t fashion accessories, they’re must-haves for keeping warm on cold-weather walks.
Dog boots can help protect sensitive paws from sharp, jagged ice as well as from the salt and chemicals that are used to melt ice on sidewalks and roads. Be sure to wipe their feet, legs and torsos, too, after they come in from the outdoors, as the chemicals can make them ill if they ingest them while cleaning themselves.
In extremely cold temperatures, keep walks short, and stay close to home. Monitor your dogs closely for signs of hypothermia (shivering, listlessness, shallow breathing and pale gums), and get them indoors right away and possibly even to a veterinarian if they seem unable to maintain their body heat.
Never let animals roam unattended. It’s dangerous at any time of year but especially during wintry conditions, when snow and ice can disorient them and cause them to become lost. In a desperate attempt to find warmth, cats sometimes curl up near car engines and then are badly injured or even killed when the vehicle is started. To help prevent this, bang loudly on the hood of your car before starting the engine.
Dogs and cats who aren’t fortunate enough to have warm homes are especially at risk of exposure, frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration when their water sources freeze. Neglect is the norm for dogs who are chained or penned up “out of sight, out of mind,” so it’s vital for caring neighbors to watch over them and notify authorities immediately if they lack adequate food, water or shelter.
The very least that dogs require to survive a winter outdoors is a wooden doghouse with a flap over the door that’s elevated off the ground and stuffed with straw. Trying to maintain body temperature in cold weather burns extra calories, so animals who spend time outdoors also need increased food rations and an ice-free water source.
If you see strays, take them indoors until you can find their guardians, or take them to an animal shelter. If they’re feral or unapproachable, provide food, water and shelter (a small doghouse filled with straw can help stray cats survive temporarily), and call your local humane society for assistance in trapping them and getting them indoors.
During cold snaps, our wildlife neighbors can also use some extra help. Provide birds, squirrels and other animals with a much-appreciated drink by filling a heavy bowl with water and breaking the surface ice twice a day. Use a plastic or ceramic bowl, because animals’ tongues can stick to metal in cold temperatures.
Animals struggle to survive bone-chilling temperatures. Ensuring that all the animals in our lives are protected and cared for will give both them and us a warm feeling inside.