The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 2, 2014

Experts offer advice for protecting pets from cold, snow

With more snow and single-digit temperatures in the forecast, local veterinarians and animal shelters are urging pet owners to protect their furry little friends from the elements.

“People need to be really, really aware of how cold it actually is,” said Glenda Erwin, director of the Carthage Humane Society.

One common ailment seen during the winter among pets is frostbite on an animal’s ears, which can happen when temperatures drop below freezing, said Ben Leavens, a veterinarian and owner of Main Street Pet Care in Joplin. Owners often don’t know that their pet is suffering from frostbite until the ears scab over or start oozing, he said.

Leavens said he also sometimes treats dogs for hypothermia — a potentially fatal condition — after they have been outside in cold, rainy weather.

While most animals would be better off indoors, animals that are left outside, such as bigger dogs and dogs with thicker coats that can become acclimated to the cold, should still have a protected place with a wind block and warm bedding, Leavens said.

Owners can place small heaters in outdoor doghouses, although the doghouses should then be moved away from the owner’s house in case of a fire, he said. They also should frequently change their outdoor pet’s water or invest in a heated water bowl, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Cats should remain indoors whenever possible, Leavens said. If they are left outdoors during the winter, they commonly seek heat from the warmth of a car, which can lead to them getting stuck in and killed by the fan belt or getting run over by the vehicle as they’re trying to get away, he said.

Leavens said there are some signs that pet owners should watch for in their pets. If a dog is shivering, it’s a sign that the animal is too cold, he said. Pets displaying heat-seeking behavior, such as tucking their limbs underneath them, could also be cold and should get to a warm place, he said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also suggests the following tips for pet care during winter:

• Bang loudly on the car hood or honk the horn before starting your car to give any cats that have sought heat from your vehicle a chance to escape.

• Never let your dog off its leash in the snow and ice. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, in part because snow and ice can cause them to lose their scent and easily become disoriented.

• Thoroughly wipe your dog’s legs and stomach when it comes in from the sleet, snow or ice because it could otherwise ingest salt, antifreeze or other dangerous chemicals while licking its paws. The paw pads could also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.

• Never leave your pet alone in a car, which can act as a refrigerator in the winter and cause the animal to freeze to death.

• If your dog is active, increase its food supply to keep it and its fur strong and healthy.

• If your dog is sensitive to the cold because of age, size, illness or breed, take it outdoors only to relieve itself. Puppies, in particular, don’t tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs.

• Clean up any antifreeze spills from your vehicle, as it is a lethal poison to animals.

• Do not shave your dog down to the skin. Consider getting your dog a coat or sweater to keep it warm.

Local animal shelters also have their own set of needs during the winter, particularly the need for volunteers willing to brave the cold weather, said Lysa Boston, manager of the Joplin Humane Society.

“Unfortunately, not a lot of people think about coming out when it’s 12 degrees to walk a dog,” she said.

To combat the chill at the shelter, animals are given warm bedding to keep them off the concrete floor, and their food supply is increased, Boston said. Outdoor kennels are still accessible but are carefully kept to prevent cold air from getting inside the building, she said.

The number of animal adoptions and volunteer hours tends to slow during the winter at the Southeast Kansas Humane Society, said Erica Wilson, promotional director and business manager.

“We’re always in need of volunteers,” she said. “When it gets colder, people don’t really want to get out and walk the animals.”

Erwin, with the Carthage shelter, said extra blankets and towels are needed during cold months to keep the animals warm. The shelter also has taken in its share of lost animals during the snowy weather of the past month.

“When the weather changes, dogs and cats both sometimes get excited in the snow, and they get lost,” Erwin said. “And with it being so cold right now, owners worry about them.”


THE AMERICAN VETERINARY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION recommends that people include their pets when assembling emergency preparedness kits in case of severe winter weather or power outages. The group suggests keeping enough food, water and any medications for your pet to last at least five days.

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