When the weather is below freezing, outdoors is not a good place to be for a living creature. Recent cold snaps even in normally moderate areas mean that a lot of animals have suffered through the discomfort of icy temperatures.
Pet owners should always have a “Plan B” for where their pets can stay if the temperature drops. Any time you cannot leave fresh water for your pet without the danger of it freezing, it’s too cold for the pet to be outdoors. Move them into a garage or protected outbuilding where they won’t be subject to wind chill. For dogs and cats, move out any fertilizers or chemicals that the animal may get into and provide plenty of blankets and a source of water.
Rabbits’ hutches should also be moved into a garage or cooler indoor area. You don’t want to move an outdoor pet inside for a brief period, where going from cold to warm to cold again may be stressful. Instead, consider bringing the pet indoors for the rest of the season, or at least into a covered area with more protection than their hutch provides. If temperatures are cold but not freezing, use a heat source outdoors, such as a SnuggleSafe microwavable pad, a nest warmer heater or a heat lamp. Make sure the rabbits can get away from the heat source if it becomes too hot, and that any cords are protected so they can’t be chewed.
Other animals, such as pet birds, guinea pigs and rodents, should never be housed outdoors in cold weather. Aviaries should have a heat source or the birds should be brought indoors when the temperature dips, and most rodents are not designed to do well in cool weather and should never be outside.
Failure to provide adequate shelter for an animal, no matter what the weather conditions, is against the law in Oregon.
Some additional cold weather tips:
- Stock up on pet supplies if weather forecasts call for tough conditions ahead. Make sure you have enough pet food, litter, and required medications on hand – just as you would for a human member of the family.
- Watch your dog’s paws. Ice, salt or deicer can all harm the pads of your dog’s feet. You can buy booties for your pet to wear on walks, or you can coat the pads with petroleum jelly to protect them. Either way, wipe off the paws, legs and stomach when your dog comes back from a walk. If ice forms between the dog’s toes, keep the fur there cut short.
- Keep your dog on a leash when you go out for walks. A pet lost in snow can have a hard time finding its way home because there isn’t a good scent to follow. Pets can also slip and slide on the ice if they are running off-leash, and in worst cases can break a bone.
- If your pet is staying in the garage, always secure the animal and open the garage door before starting a gas-powered vehicle. The carbon monoxide produced by starting up the car could poison your pet.
- Use insulation for a pet that is sleeping outside, such as four or five inches of straw or dry blankets and towels. If you have a pet that chews on fabric, don’t use it; as well, you should avoid material bedding if there is any chance of it getting wet. Avoid cedar or pine shavings that can be harmful to the skin and respiratory system of your pet. Change straw bedding regularly so it stays fresh smelling and doesn’t begin to mold.
- Work to keep older animals warm and comfortable. An older animal may be suffering from arthritis and have a much harder time in the cold weather, even when kept indoors. If your pet is diagnosed with arthritis, have a pain medication on hand that can help it through the cold period.
- Younger animals may also need additional help in the cold because they cannot reliably regulate their body temperatures. Provide lots of comfortable bedding for a young pet.
- Supply a dog litterbox if you have a smaller canine. Dogs, especially some of the smaller or short-coated breeds, can get really fussy about going outdoors when it gets too chilly and may not even inform you about when they have to go. If you haven’t heard of dog litterboxes, they work on the same principle as a cat litterbox and can be purchased at most supply stores. Keep the box by the door and consider it a better solution than Fido having an accident because he doesn’t want to brave the frigid air. Give them a refresher course in going outdoors when it warms up, if you don’t want your pet to use the litterbox all the time.
- Watch your car and make sure it is not leaking antifreeze. Antifreeze is particularly attractive to dogs and cats because it has a sweet taste. Keep your car well-maintained so leaks don’t occur. If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested antifreeze, don’t delay in getting it to the vet or emergency clinic immediately. Signs of ingestion include loss of coordination, depression, vomiting and diarrhea, abnormal thirst and seizures. Dogs can often recover if treated right away Unfortunately, cats tend to sustain irreversible damage to liver and kidneys – more reason to keep the animals inside.
- Be careful when starting your car’s engine, no matter where it is parked. Cats gravitate toward warm engines in the cold weather. Pound loudly on the hood of your vehicle before starting it to evacuate any animals seeking warmth.