By Madison Fisler Lewis
Nov. 21, 2014. The High Country is getting that familiar nip in the air that signifies that winter is well on its way. But while you’re bundling up against the cold, don’t forget about your furry friends! High Country Press spoke to the Watauga Humane Society to learn ways to keep your critters warm and safe this winter season.
Just because your pets might have fur doesn’t mean they are completely protected from the winter cold. While their fur helps to keep them warm, pets can get wet in the snow, or get too cold after prolonged exposure to the elements. In the wintertime, pets can suffer from hypothermia, just like people can, or suffer damages to parts of their bodies that are not covered by fur, like noses, paws and ears.
To keep your pets safe this winter, it is best to keep them inside with the rest of the family, especially in cases of kittens, puppies or elderly pets. However, if this is not possible, the humane society has a few tips that might help make the winter weather easier on your furry friends.
“Keep your pets inside, even if they are outdoor pets,” said Shyloh Favreau, assistant manager of the Watauga Humane Society shelter.”
“If it is cold, they can freeze. In addition, they can be lost, stolen or injured.”
But if your pet must be kept outside, Favreau suggests following these guidelines:
Outdoor pets should be provided with a sturdy shelter to protect them from the elements. Shelters can be purchased from many local retailers, or you can build them yourself. All sides of the shelter should be insulated and lined so your pet is able to keep itself warm. Once you decide on bedding, be sure to check the bedding regularly. Dirty and wet bedding may make your pet colder, not warmer. Try to place the shelter in a garage or other covered area that may be a few degrees warmer than the open outdoors. It that is not possible, ensure that the door to the shelter is facing away from the wind.
“Heated dog houses will definitely help keep your pets safe,” she said.
Food and Water
“Heated water bowls will help keep food and water from freezing,” Favreau said. “For your animals that spend a lot of time outdoors, increase their food supply. Animals need protein for good fur and to make sure they have enough energy to keep warm.”
Favreau suggests dry food over wet food, since dry food has a lower likelihood of freezing. In addition, you should check the food and water bowls frequently to replenish when the bowls empty, or to change out frozen food and water.
With snow and ice comes salt and road chemicals in the High Country. But what keeps our roads safer in the wintertime has the potential to harm pets.
“Chemicals and salt can hurt your pets if you aren’t careful,” Favreau said. “When your pets have been outside, be sure to wipe off their paws, legs and stomach or any part of their bodies that may have touched road salts so that the chemicals don’t burn their paws. In addition, be sure to wipe them off before they lick off the salt, as it could make them sick.”
Pet parents should also ensure to check the bottoms of their animal’s feet during the wintertime. Snow and ice can get stuck in their fur on the pads of their paws and cause them to chap, crack and bleed.
Owners should also be diligent about where they keep chemicals such as antifreeze. While antifreeze is a poison, it also has a sweet taste that may entice animals to ingest it. Take care with chemical storage, wipe up any spills promptly and check for spills regularly.
Favreau also wishes to remind the community that when the weather turns cold, cats and other small animals look for warm places to sleep. Such warm places could include under cars.
“For cats especially, be extra cautious starting your car,” she said. “Cats sleep under the hoods of cars when it is cold, and we have seen some very bad injuries and sometimes fatalities from that. If you hear something under the hood of your car, check it out. The easiest way to be sure is to bang on your car to scare away any critters that might be hiding.”
Favreau says the best way to gauge whether it is too cold for your pet is to use yourself as a reference.
“If it is too cold for you, it is too cold for them,” Favreau said. “A lot of people think that because animals have fur, they don’t get cold. But that is not true. If you have to bundle up in a big coat and hat and scarf, consider a sweater for your animal too. Especially if you have a small or very short haired breed, and kittens, puppies and elderly animals that are more susceptible to the temperature.”
At the Shelter
Though the intake of animals slows down in the wintertime, the shelter still needs the help of the community to keep all of its animals safe, happy and healthy through the winter.
“We have less kittens coming in during the winter, but at the same time, people are definitely quicker to act if they see a stray animal outside. Right now though, we are having a blanket drive for the fleece blankets that you can get cheaply at Walmart. We are also reaching out to help replenish the things we lost when we went through what we did with the cats. We are also taking holiday gifts for the animals to put under the tree, toys and food for our food pantry.”
For more information about the shelter, or how to help the animals this winter, click here.