Cold for you is cold for pets too

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 29, 2019

OAKLAND COUNTY — In these frigid temps, would you be willing to trade in your warm snow boots for bare feet and your cozy blanket for a snow-covered yard at night?

When temperatures dip below freezing the way they have the past couple of weeks, animal experts say dogs are just as uncomfortable outdoors as you might be.

Joanie Toole, chief of the Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center, said her dog at home wouldn’t be likely to keep any pet outside for very long in the wintertime — it’s just not safe. But Michigan law is a bit more lenient.

“In Michigan, they’re allowed to be outside if they’re provided with food, water and shelter,” she explained. “And that shelter has to be insulated with straw. Not hay or blankets, since they’ll freeze. It has to be straw, though I wouldn’t want to keep my animal outside that way.”

Oakland County Animal Control, which has a 24/7 tip line manned by Oakland County Sheriff’s Office employees, responds to calls year-round. In the winter, that means day or night, checking up on animals that neighbors suspect have inadequate resources to stay warm and fed.

“We haven’t seen many cases of hypothermia yet. We’ll usually get a lot of paw injuries. But that’s the type of thing officers are looking for out on the beat. If they see a dog that’s just been outside a little too long, or doesn’t have a lot of weight on it or paw injuries (from the cold), they’ll check up on them.”

A checkup also includes ensuring the animal has access to water — liquid water. If their water bowl turns to a block of ice, that’s not sufficient. Consequences for pet owners can range from a warning to a citation, all the way to confiscation of the animal and, in extreme cases, arrest.

Anna Chrisman, media manager for the Michigan Humane Society, did not respond to requests for comment before press time on how many calls the organization is getting in its service area concerning animals in the elements.

“They don’t have to have access to food at all times, since some dogs eat at certain times of day. But they have to have access to water at all times,” Toole said. “The tractor store probably has water bowl heaters that will keep the water potable for them to drink.”

Booties, if your dog will tolerate them, and other outdoor gear for animals have become popular over the years.

Mike Palmer, owner of Premier Pet Supply stores across metro Detroit, said the booties are a great investment because they not only keep paws warm and dry, they’re a barrier against other wintertime hazards like rock salt.

“If your dog or any dog has access to your driveway and sidewalks, investing in pet-safe salt is a must,” he said. “Normal sidewalk salt can give your dogs’ pads really bad chemical burns, which can cause them a great deal of pain, bleeding and limping.”

Another pro tip to protect paws from cold injury is Musher’s Secret Paw Protection, a kind of wax that works like an invisible boot for dogs’ pads and even noses to ward off cracking and bleeding from cold and dry conditions, Palmer added.

But even with cute boots and safe salt, hypothermia is still a risk. The main symptom is excessive shivering, according to the Animal Care Network, which dogs do in order to produce body heat. If the dog continues to shiver, then its body temperature may be too low. A dog with hypothermia will have shallow, slow breathing.

Other signs include a low heart rate, as well as clumsiness and a loss of coordination due to muscle stiffness. The dog’s eyes may become dilated and fixed, and its gums may turn pale or blue in color. Dogs with hypothermia may even collapse or enter a coma, in extreme cases.

Moderate to severe hypothermia kicks in when the dog’s temperature falls below 95 degrees. Immediate treatment is crucial. One wants to keep the animal alive by warming — but be gradual, since changing a pet’s temperature too fast can be dangerous.

Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski contributed to this report.