With the bitter bite of winter in the air, pet owners should take precautions to keep their animals warm and comfortable.
Steve Huff, the full-time veterinarian for Toledo-based Humane Ohio, said pets can suffer from hypothermia. Symptoms include being sluggish, intense shivering, and shortness of breath.
“Wind chill is a factor, and we don’t recommend any more than 20 minutes outside at a time when it’s below 30 degrees,” he said. “Just be judicious with your time outside and pay attention to what your animal is telling you.”
Salt on sidewalks and streets is irritating and can get trapped in paws, so owners should inspect their animals’ feet after each outing. “Booties are good if they’ll tolerate them,” Mr. Huff said.
Some substances, such as chemical ice-melting agents and antifreeze, are toxic and could be ingested when an animal licks its feet to clean or warm them.
“Antifreeze is very sweet, so they may actually go for it and it shuts their kidneys down,” Mr. Huff said.
The Toledo Area Humane Society’s two cruelty investigators — the only two in Lucas County — are keeping busy as the temperatures plummet. Most calls regard dogs.
“Since probably last week, we’ll get four or five calls a day for dogs with no shelter,” investigator Gene Boros said. “Many of those turn out to be people letting their dog out for a while to go to the bathroom.”
The humane society has not recorded weather-related criminal cases this season but has educated a few residents about caring for their outdoor pets in the cold. Experts recommend animals be kept indoors, even if in a garage or basement, during the winter. But a sturdy dog house can be sufficient, preferably one elevated from the ground and facing away from the wind.
“It needs to have a floor, four walls, and a roof,” Mr. Boros said. “The hole where they get in and out can’t be too big.”
Dogs should be able to stand up and turn around in their houses comfortably. Oversized houses are counterproductive. “A smaller house is better because it keeps the heat,” Mr. Boros said. “If it’s too big, the dog’s body heat can’t warm it up enough.”
Loose straw in the shelter will help the animal retain body heat, but won’t hold moisture like hay, blankets, and towels. Moisture keeps heat away and can freeze, leaving a pet with an icy bed.
The humane society also gets a few calls about outdoor cats. If a barn or garage isn’t available, Mr. Boros recommends providing cat houses. Humane Ohio sells cat houses made of plastic totes and insulated with foam and straw. Fifty have been sold this year and there is a waiting list for about 30. The houses cost $35 each.
Water dishes, which Mr. Huff said should be plastic instead of metal, should be refreshed several times a day to prevent the animal’s water source from turning to ice.
“We always recommend the heated bowls,” Mr. Boros said. “But if that’s not available, you’re going to have to change the water out every couple of hours.”
Outdoor animals’ food supply should be increased 25 percent in the winter, Mr. Huff said. The animals burn more calories and need to maintain body heat. “And water loss increases because the air is so much drier,” he said. “So that should be about 25 percent more too.”
Residents who see an animal outside for long periods of time without shelter, food, or water should call the humane society at 419-891-9777.