Tips to care for pets in extreme cold

Posted at 8:54 AM, Jan 21, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-21 08:54:03-05

Winter weather can be uncomfortable for humans, but don’t forget that animals can suffer its sting as well. The Humane Society and the ASPCA offer tips on how to care for your pets to keep them happy and healthy during cold temps.

•    Don't leave dogs outdoors when the temperature drops. Most dogs, and all cats, are safer indoors, except when taken out for exercise. Regardless of the season, shorthaired, very young, or old dogs and all cats should never be left outside without supervision. Short-coated dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater during walks.


•    The wind chill can threaten a pet's life regardless of the outdoor temperature. A dog or cat is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. However, if your dog is an outdoor dog, it must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in its body heat. Make sure the floor is raised a few inches off the ground and insulate the floor by covering it with cedar shavings or straw. Try to keep the entrance facing away from the wind and covered with heavy plastic or waterproof burlap.


•    Pets who spend a lot of time outside need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him—and his fur—in tip-top shape. Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue – like yours - can stick and freeze to metal.


•    Cats and small critters are attracted to warm engines in parked and may crawl up under the hood. Avoid injuring any hidden animals by banging on your car's hood to scare them away prior to starting your engine.


•    The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe the feet with a damp towel before your pet ingests the salt, anti-freeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals that can irritate his mouth or cause a fatality. His paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.


•    Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife, or your family. Visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center for more information.


•    Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm—dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.


•    Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.


•    Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, which can make housebreaking during the winter difficult. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, pursue the option of paper-training him inside. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.

Push come to shove, the best prescription for winter's woes is to keep your pets inside with you and your family.

As for farm animal owners:

•    Have a water supply for a minimum of three days, with provisions to keep it from freezing. (Use plastic, not metal containers).


•    Provide sturdy buildings to house farm animals that won't collapse under the weight of snow or ice.


•    Have a containment area to keep animals from sliding down hills.

Keep emergency contact numbers handy, such as those for veterinarians in your area, animal rescue, or an emergency animal transporting facility.