Animals need care in frigid weather, too

Aaron Krause • Mar 1, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Rocco dashed into the snow outside the Huron County Humane Society shelter, sporting a doggie sweater.

The black lab/golden retriever mix appeared content in the white stuff, especially with his toy. A humane society official had to entice him out.

On this recent day, the weather was cold but bearable -- no sub degree temperatures and below zero windchills, although forecasters were calling for those conditions that night.

Companion animals such as Rocco might love the snow and cold, but like their human handlers, it's important to exercise caution with four-legged friends when conditions are ripe for conditions such as frostbite. Fido, like humans, can contract the condition as well as hypothermia (lack of body heat), said Bonnie Albright, director of development and marketing at the Huron County Humane Society.

Albright said some pets tolerate clothing, while others will not. Long-haired dogs and cats have "very heavy insulation," she added.

Albright said she especially worries about a pet's paws. Chemicals used to melt snow can irritate their paws and a pet can track the chemicals back into the house and lick it, she added.

"Booties" for dogs are available in stores, but not all dogs will tolerate them, Albright said.

If it's frigid, pets should be taken out long enough only to relieve themselves and brought immediately back in, she said.

During cold weather in general, "you just need to know your breed and know your pet and how it reacts," Albright said.

Pet owners who keep their animals outside should use straw for bedding, which is better than blankets. The problem with blankets is they could grow wet, freeze and therefore offer no protection for the pet, Albright said.

Also, if pets remain outside, their owners should increase their amount of food by 10 to 20 percent during winter months. Those extra calories are needed to keep them warm. They also need regular access to clean, unfrozen water, Albright said.

"You really need to be checking that drinking water frequently to ensure that it is unfrozen," she said.

Pet owners who leave their four-legged companions outside during the winter need to check on the pets in general, she added. If an animal is cold to the touch, it may be suffering from frostbite, or if its ears or paws are pail, move it to a warm area and contact a veterinarian.

Albright said stray cats' ability to survive in extreme cold depends on the individual feline, what kind of support system they have and where they can find shelter and food.

"Some cats (are) very clever," Albright said, adding they can find warm places as havens. Cats also tend to seek the warmth of car engines. It's a good idea to knock on your hood or honk your horn if your car has been parked for a long time during the winter. That will scare the cat away.

Albright said the Huron County Humane Society doesn't take in strays, so people shouldn't bring them to the shelter.

But there is a place in Huron County to take in wildlife stranded in the cold.

Maribeth Taylor, director of God's Little Critters in Willard, recently experienced such a case.

Humane society volunteers happened upon what resembled a big snowball, although it moved. It turned out it was a Trumpeter Swan, which gets its name from its trumpet-like call. It's regarded as the largest of all native North American wildlife, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

Trumpeter Swans, which are federally protected, are usually seen by the lake, Taylor said.

Taylor said the swan, which was near death, has pneumonia.

"But I think we can save him," said Taylor, whose organization is a wildlife rehabilitation and learning center at 1609 Peru Center Road. "If we hadn't had a call on him he would've been dead. He's doing a lot better."

Taylor thanked Humane Society volunteers, who called God's Little Critters -- which saved the animal's life, she added.

She said people who find themselves in a similar situation should call God's Little Critters at (419) 935-1782.

"Every call is returned; every single one," Taylor said. "We act on things as soon as we can."

Taylor also said birds are freezing to death. To help prevent deaths, people can buy heated water baths outside for birds at places such as bird supply stores.

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Tips on caring for animals in cold weather (Source: Huron County Humane Society)

If an animal is cold to the touch, or his paws and ears are pale, he may be suffering from frostbite. Move the animal to a warmer area and contact your veterinarian immediately.

Dogs should be provided a well-built, insulated, slant-roofed dog house. The interior should be just large enough for the dog to stand and to lie down comfortably and slightly elevated from the ground for air circulation. The door should face away from prevailing winds and have a protective flap to eliminate drafts.

Clean, dry straw should be provided for bedding, rather than towels, rugs or blankets, which absorb moisture and freeze in frigid temperatures.

When temperatures drop, pets shouldn't be left outside for any length of time. Be sure to bring small or short-haired pets in when temperatures reach 15-20 degrees. Please take into account precipitation and wind chill.

Cats should be kept indoors or at least brought into a warm, animal-proofed garage during severe weather.

Roaming cats often seek the warmth of car engines, so be sure to knock on the car hood or honk the horn before starting your car to startle them and give them a chance to escape.

Increase the amount of food you provide for pets left outside by 10 to 20 percent during the winter months. The extra calories are needed to help an animal stay warm.

Regular access to clean, unfrozen water is also critical. Check drinking water every few hours to ensure that it's unfrozen.

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