Tips to keep pets safe in the cold

11/23/2010 2:24 PM

12/04/2013 7:12 AM

Editor's note: This story was first published in 2010

Sub-freezing temperatures are forecast in the Sacramento region this week. And when the cold hits, there will be more to worry about than frozen pipes or frost-bitten plants.

Barbara Hodges, a veterinarian and consultant Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association in Davis, hopes that residents won't forget one other big responsibility: The need to protect cats and dogs.

The effect of cold on pets can be as physically devastating as for human beings.

Hodges' pointers:

-Where possible, consider bringing your critters inside the home.

"Ideally, everyone who has a pet would be keeping their dog or cat indoors during these extreme temperatures," Hodges said.

The wisdom is that except for the fittest and furriest of animals, thermal regulation - managing body temperature - can present a challenge.

Very young and very old cats and dogs are less able to compensate for temperature extremes. Generally, they'll be more vulnerable to the treachery of too much cold than their middle-aged counterparts.

Some breeds will do better than others. A Chihuahua, which has very little fur, is no match for extended exposure to freezing temperatures. Even big husky dogs with thick coats can face difficulty when they are out of shape.

-If the pet must be outside, make sure the animal has a dry, draft-free living enclosure. The ubiquitous igloo-shaped pet homes can work well.

Any igloo should be oriented away from the prevailing winds. And a covering over the entrance such as a piece of burlap or tarp can help keep the inside cozy.

Consider elevating the enclosure at least a few inches from the ground and adding floor covering such as cedar shavings or straw or other materials that can help retain the animal's natural body heat.

Some pet stores offer heat retention materials for snuggling.

-Provide plenty of food. The cold requires the animal to burn more calories to stay warm.

And, in a freeze, choose a plastic water bowl over one made of metal. The metal can conduct the cold, freeze the water, making it inaccessible for drinking, and play havoc with the animals tongue on contact.

Check the water bowl frequently if it's exposed to the elements. And check your outdoor pet every few hours.

-Pets sent to the garage to stay warm may pose other safety problems. Pet owners who choose this form of shelter should take stock of the garage to make sure there is no antifreeze, which can be lethal, available for licking from any source, either a container or the garage floor.

-Hodges also offered a point of safety aimed at wild and domesticated critters in the neighborhood. When headed to your car, a loud hand-slap on the frame or other noise-making effort can save the animal that crawls into the engine compartment for warmth from being maimed, killed or an unwilling passenger on a harrowing ride through traffic.

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