Experts warn against exposure to cold, offer tips on staying warm

By: Andy Kozlowski | Metro | Published December 19, 2022

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METRO DETROIT — With temperatures plunging, experts are reminding pet owners to be careful when taking their four-legged friends outside.

“Often, a dog that is uncomfortable outside during the cold will bark, paw at a door to be let in or lift a paw indicating that the paw has become too cold and, thus, painful to bear weight. If a dog is showing any of these as a sign of discomfort, a pet owner should let the animal inside to warm up as quickly as possible,” said Justin Holland, an animal control officer for Madison Heights, via email.

Holland doesn’t recommend housing an animal outside for any period of time during the winter, but appropriate shelter must be provided if one does. An outdoor shelter should be lined with straw, which wicks away moisture to keep it from freezing. Blankets or hay are a bad idea — both become saturated with water and freeze upon exposure to cold air. Animals housed outside for any amount of time should also be provided a heated water bowl to prevent their drinking water from freezing.

“Time, as well as your dog’s individual comfort level, should be considered regarding how long to allow your animal to stay outside,” Holland said. “Animals left out too long in winter weather can suffer hypothermia, just as people can, and often the symptoms would be difficult for a pet owner to observe.”

Hypothermia symptoms can sometimes be subtle and hard to observe, and include delayed reflexes, sluggishness and paleness. Loss of consciousness can occur, in the most severe cases.

“If you believe your pet is suffering from hypothermia, seek veterinary help immediately,” Holland said.

And what if someone sees a neighbor’s pet left outside at length?

“Citizens should call (the city’s animal control division) for an assessment of an animal outside in cold weather anytime they are concerned,” Holland said. “In the wrong conditions, cold weather can harm a dog with no natural protection in a short amount of time. If in doubt, please call.”

Jill Tack owns The Pet Beastro, a pet supply store specializing in raw diets, located at 27636 John R Road in Madison Heights. She said there are a number of items available to help keep pets safe and strong during the cold months ahead.

“Walking and exercising are still important for dogs (during the winter), but you may find your walks are shorter on days with inclement weather or freezing temperatures. If you have a dog with short hair or a small breed dog, consider adding a jacket or sweater and boots,” Tack said via email. “These items will make the walk more enjoyable for you and your dogs.

“Dogs with shorter fur or thin fur often appreciate the coat or sweater more than breeds with long or fluffy fur,” she added. “Breeds such as Huskies, Samoyeds and Akitas love the winter, and their fur allows them to stay outside for extended play periods. It may even be hard for you to get them to come inside because they love the cooler weather so much.”

Regarding boots, an alternative that pets might find more comfortable is using a salve or balm to help protect their paws from snow, ice and salt.

“After walking, it’s best to quickly examine the feet to ensure snow isn’t impacted between the toes, verify that the paw pads didn’t get cut from ice on the sidewalks, and that no sidewalk salt stayed in the pads,” Tack said. “The extra layer from the paw protection will also help keep pads soft and moist, as our dogs tend to deal with dry skin just like humans in the colder and drier months.”

She noted that The Pet Beastro carries pet-safe ice melt for use on patios and other spaces where pets may walk. Tack also recommends feeding pets a diet high in protein and fat content, which can reduce dander from dry skin and coat during the winter.

“If you aren’t sure on what food to select that is best for your cat or dog for the winter months, our staff can help,” she said. “We also have lots of interactive toys that are great for those pets who don’t like the cold. When the winter blues hit, it’s time to have interactive indoor fun with your pets!”

Sue Edwards is the president of the Animal Welfare Society of Southeastern Michigan, a 100% no-kill animal shelter located at 27796 John R Road in Madison Heights. The group rescues dogs and cats from rural kill shelters in Michigan, Ohio and Texas. Each animal is then fully vetted and put up for adoption. More information on available pets and how to donate is available at its Facebook page and at its official website,

Edwards encouraged people to help any strays they see outside by providing an insulated shelter filled with straw, close to the house and away from the wind, with a heated water and food supply, or to call a local shelter or rescue to see if they can take them in.

“If you can’t stand it outside in the freezing temps, neither can they!” Edwards said in an email. “Thousands of dogs and cats freeze to death every winter. It is not necessary for this to happen. Show some compassion and a little love, and keep your pets warm!”

The Animal Welfare Society of Southeastern Michigan can be reached at (248) 548-1150.