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Posted 2/13/19 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

This latest blast of subzero temperatures has not only put anyone who spends time working outdoors in peril as a result of frigid wind chills, but it has also made it tough on wildlife and livestock. But more importantly, these freezing temperatures threaten the lives of family pets or stray animals that have been left outdoors for extended periods of time.
While it may be possible for humans to bundle up enough to keep warm when temperatures drop into the minus 40s like we saw last week, livestock and wildlife are pretty much left on their own to weather out the cold temperatures.
But when it comes to taking care of your pets, animal experts say that there are plenty of steps that we, as owners, can follow to make sure our animals don’t suffer needlessly when they are outdoors in freezing temperatures.
Top Winter Weather Tips For Pets
1. Know your dog’s limits! Some dogs are more susceptible to the cold than others. Short-coated, thin, elderly, or very young dogs get cold more quickly so adjust the amount of time they stay outside! Hypothermia and frostbite pose major risks to dogs in winter, so remember, if it is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your dog!
2. Check the hood! Cats often sleep in the wheel wells of cars during the winter months to keep warm. If you start your car and a cat is sleeping on your tire, it can be severely hurt or even killed by moving engine parts. Prevent injuries by banging loudly on your hood or honking the horn before starting your car. This will wake up the cat and give it a chance to escape before starting the car.
3. Wipe their paws! During winter walks, your dog’s paws can pick up all kinds of toxic chemicals, like salt, antifreeze, or de-icers. Be sure to wipe off your dog’s paws when you return from walks to prevent him from licking it off and becoming sick. And when wiping off your dog’s paws, remember to check for signs of injury, such as cracked or bleeding paws.
4. Keep them leashed! More pets become lost in the winter than any other season because snowfall can disguise recognizable scents that would normally help them find their way home. Prevent your pets from becoming lost by keeping dogs leashed on walks and, just in case you are separated from your pets, make sure their collars have up-to-date contact information and they are microchipped.
5. Leave them home! Just as hot cars are dangerous for pets in the summer, cold cars pose a threat as well! Only take your pets in the car if it is necessary, and never leave them unattended.
6. Give them shelter! Ideally, all pets should live inside. If your pets live outdoors primarily, bring them indoors during subzero temperatures. For the rest of the winter, provide them with a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow them to sit and lay down comfortably, but small enough to conserve body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. Turn the shelter so it faces away from the wind and cover the doorway with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. Also, pets who spend a lot of time outside need more food to replace energy lost from trying to stay warm. Use plastic food and water dishes instead of metal. When the temperature is low enough, your pet’s tongue can become stuck to metal.
7. Avoid spills! Antifreeze attracts cats and dogs because it is very sweet to taste, but it is extremely poisonous and can cause serious illness or death when ingested. Be sure to clean up any antifreeze that spills in your garage, and keep the bottle somewhere your pets cannot access.
8. Be prepared! Winter brings extreme weather that can cause power outages. Have an emergency plan and make sure they include your pets! Have an emergency kit with enough food, water, and medication to last your pets at least five days. Most likely you will never need it, but if you do, you will be thankful you planned ahead!