With much of the United States currently experiencing a deep freeze, it is vital that pets are adequately taken care of, and that they aren’t neglected and left to freeze to death outdoors. Tragically this winter, many are suffering, and countless others have already died.
Many dogs and cats have been discovered dead after being left outside overnight in below freezing temperatures, tied up without shelter, or left in outdoor kennels that do not have sufficient insulation. In many places animal neglect is a crime, with most states having specific laws that prohibit pets from being constantly tethered or left outdoors without shelter for long periods during extreme weather conditions.
While all animals have different tolerances to temperature based on their coat, activity levels, health, and body fat stores, it’s vital to remember that domesticated animals are always going to be effected, just like humans are, when temperatures drastically fall or rise.
If a pet is exposed to freezing conditions for too long it is at the potential risk of frostbite or hypothermia, which happens when their body is unable to sustain its normal temperature. Signs of hypothermia may be shivering, whining, slowing down, difficulty breathing, looking for a warm place to dry off, burrowing, weakening, or cessation of movement.
Keep plenty of food and water stocked up in case it is difficult to get out to the shops when the snow, storm, or ice arrives. And, ensure there is ample medication if required.
Be aware that some animals will burn more calories during cold spells, so talk to your vet or so some research to ensure your pet is receiving all the nutrients he or she needs.
There are a variety of options to choose from if you believe an animal is in distress:
>> Contact your local police department.
>> Contact local animal rescue shelters.
>> Call your local veterinarian for advice.
>> Search for local animal groups on social media and ask questions as there is often someone who is willing to offer helpful advice, or may even take action on your behalf.
Stray dogs or cats are not spared the discomfort of the cold weather or the risk to their lives, so it is essential that they are also paid attention to so they may survive the freezing conditions. For stray animals follow the same guidelines as above, and seek help whenever you feel any animal is suffering or its life is in danger.
Many people build or buy simple shelters in their gardens for stray animals to use during extreme weather and line them with straw, as well as leaving out food and water in non-freeze containers. For guidelines on how to build a shelter click here.
Another option is choosing to foster animals during harsh weather to free up much needed space in rescue shelters.
If you happen to see an animal suffering in freezing conditions it is advisable to call a vet and, if possible, move the animal to a warm area with a hot water bottle that is covered, along with blankets or towels. As soon as possible, take the animal to a veterinary clinic to be assessed.
A few tips for caring for animals during wintry weather:
>> Leave your dogs fur to grow during winter as their coat will keep them warm. If the dog has short fur, consider a dog-coat or jumper for walks.
>> Rinse and towel-dry their paws and clean their legs and bellies whenever they come indoors as salt, ice, and de-icers, coolants, and chemicals can be hazardous if ingested when they lick themselves.
>> Ensure they have plenty of fresh water to drink.
>> Change their sleeping location if the area they sleep in does not have adequate heating or cooling.
>> Don’t leave your pet to roam around outdoors unsupervised in severe weather conditions. Also, don’t leave an animal in a car in cold conditions, as the car can quickly freeze when in below zero conditions.
>> Take your pet to a veterinarian for a health care check once a year to ensure he or she does not have conditions that could worsen due to changes in temperature. Also be aware that age and illnesses can affect an animal’s ability to regulate their body temperature.
>> Consider shortening the length of dog walks when weather is severe.
>> Use heated pet mats with caution as some have been known to melt and cause burns.
>> Do not allow a dog off the leash when walking near water, or where ponds or rivers have frozen over, as water and ice can be deadly to animals that fall in, and also to their owners if they attempt to rescue them.
>> If you use portable heaters in the home or light open fires when the weather turns colder, then ensure they are pet-proof, not likely to be knocked over, or placed somewhere where they are not likely to burn or set fire to an animal.
>> Short-legged pets are more at risk during cold spells as their bodies are more likely to make contact with snowy or ice-covered ground.
>> Check your car before driving, as cats may climb under the hoods to snuggle near engines to keep warm, and many have been badly injured or died due to this. To be safe, look under the hood, underneath the car, bang on the hood and sound the horn to alert any animals that may have taken refuge there.
>> Do not leave electric heaters unattended in outdoor shelters, as they can easily set alight—sadly a mother dog and her puppies were burned to death recently due to a fallen heater.
It is important to remember that it is not just dogs and cats that need extra care and attention. All animals are susceptible to extreme elements, so be vigilant with horses and any other outdoor pets. Also, stock up on extra bird feeders. If you see a wild animal or any livestock that you think may be in distress, don’t hesitate to take action. Please click here for further recommendations.
If you are in doubt as to whether it is too cold for a pet to be outdoors, then ask yourself this question: is it too cold for humans? If the answer is yes, it will also be too cold for our beloved pets.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron