Important safety tips for your pets in dangerously cold weather

By Paul Gross - Meteorologist

While you and I can bundle up in freezing temperatures, our outdoor pets have fewer options.

Here are some great tips from the Michigan Animal Adoption Network and Animal Care Network:

  • If you know anyone who keeps pets outdoors, persuade them to bring them inside.
  • Low temperatures, winds and precipitation can lead to illness, hypothermia and death. 
  • Dogs and cats can suffer from frostbite in a matter of minutes, mainly on feet, ears and tails.
  • Local laws require that if dogs are kept outdoors, the owner must supply the dog with "proper" shelter: 
    • If kept outside, use a dog house that is not oversized, since the dog needs to retain body heat.
    • Put a wind flap on the dog house door.
    • Provide plenty of clean, dry straw (at least 2/3 full).
    • Blankets and towels freeze when used in a dog house. Do not use.
    • Dog houses must be elevated off the ground so they don't freeze on the bottom.  
    • If animals must be kept outside, face dog house away from wind.
  • Double up on food intake during cold weather. Extra weight keeps animals kept outside warmer.
  • Snow is not sufficient to hydrate animals. Water bowls freeze. Animals need access, to clean, fresh, unfrozen water.
  • Feral cats need proper shelter and protection from the elements as well.
  • Cats who spend time outside can freeze, get lost, injured or climb into the bottom of warm cars for warmth.
  • Salt and other chemicals can irritate the pads of animal's feet.
  • When you are cold enough to go inside, pets most likely are too!
  • If you see a dog or cat in need of a help, become that animal's advocate. Speak with the owner, and if that fails to improve the situation, contact your local animal shelter, humane society or animal control office. 

Symptoms and signs of pet hypothermia:

The main sign of mild hypothermia in dogs in excessive shivering. Dogs shiver in order to produce body heat, thus, continuous shivering may mean the dog's body temperature is too cold. A dog with hypothermia will also breath abnormally slow and breathing patterns will become very shallow. The dog's heart rate will slow considerably and because of muscle stiffness, the dog may become clumsy, losing all coordination.

Dogs may also appear lethargic. Moderate to severe hypothermia occurs when the dog's temperature falls below 95 degrees. In some cases, the dog's eyes may become very dilated and fixed, and their gums may turn very pale or blueish in color. In extreme cases, the dog may collapse and/or enter into a coma.

Treatment of pet hypothermia:

Immediate treatment of hypothermia is crucial. The primary goals in the treatment and handling of a hypothermic animal are: keep the animal alive by warming, avoid any further exposure to cold, and then transport the animal to a site of complete veterinary care. If a dog is not treated in the appropriate time period, its temperature may become so low that it cannot be restored to normal levels, making it fatal.

Take the dog immediately to a veterinarian if you suspect it has severe hypothermia or warming methods do not seem to be helping the dog.

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