A cat spends time indoors at the Royal Oak Animal Shelter.

A cat spends time indoors at the Royal Oak Animal Shelter.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

When temperatures plunge, bring pets indoors

By: Andy Kozlowski, Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 29, 2019

 When it comes to winter weather, animal experts say pet owners need to take  the proper steps to keep their furry friends safe and healthy. This dog, above, and cat, below, at the Royal Oak Animal Shelter are being kept out of the extremely cold weather.

When it comes to winter weather, animal experts say pet owners need to take the proper steps to keep their furry friends safe and healthy. This dog, above, and cat, below, at the Royal Oak Animal Shelter are being kept out of the extremely cold weather.

Photos by Sarah Wojcik


ROYAL OAK — Frigid temperatures and icy conditions have finally reared their heads.

This has prompted experts in animal care to remind residents that as a rule of thumb, if it’s too cold outside for humans, it’s too cold for pets.

The Animal Care Network recently issued a warning about “feels like” temperatures in the single digits in metro Detroit. ACN advises pet owners to not take any chances, and to bring their pets inside, noting that dogs and cats can suffer from frostbite in a matter of minutes, and that low temperatures, winds and precipitation can lead to illness, hypothermia and death. 

Local laws require that dogs kept outside have access to proper shelter, defined as a doghouse that is not oversized, since the dog needs to retain body heat. The doghouse should also have a wind flap over the door, and be filled at least two-thirds full with plenty of clean, dry straw. Do not use blankets or towels, since these will freeze. 

The doghouse must also be elevated off the ground so that it doesn’t freeze on the bottom, and the doghouse should be facing away from the wind. One should also double up on food intake during cold weather, since extra weight will keep animals warmer outside.

Also, note that snow is not sufficient to hydrate animals. Pets need access to clean, fresh, unfrozen water. 

Feral cats also need proper shelter and protection from the elements. Cats who live outside can freeze, get lost or injured, or climb into the bottom of warm cars for warmth. In addition, salt and other chemicals can irritate the pads of an animal’s feet — another reason to keep them inside during the wintertime.

It’s also important to know the symptoms and signs of hypothermia. The main symptom is excessive shivering, 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 their 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.

“Warming up the animal too fast can actually harm the animal,” Madison Heights animal control officer Justin Holland said. “Don’t use hot water or a hair dryer. Just wrap it in warm blankets, and gently rub the blanket to create friction heat. Other than that, your first priority should be getting it to a vet as soon as possible.”

Jodie Ellison, manager of the Royal Oak Animal Shelter, said the No. 1 thing she tells people is that, if using an ice melt, choose a pet-safe option, because salt can burn pets’ paws.

She also recommended that pet owners dry the pads of their furry companions when they come in from being outside to avoid trench foot; inspect their paws for salt or ice chunks trapped between toes to prevent uncomfortable sores; and apply a salve.

“We did have an issue with a dog that came in,” Ellison said. “It was loose on a cold and wet night, and its paws were raw from running.”

She also recommended that pet owners feed dogs and cats a high-quality food and make sure they have plenty of water.

“Some northern breeds love this weather,” she said. “Shorter-fur dogs don’t have a lot more protection. Tiny dogs, itty-bitty teacup (dogs), anything bred to be a lap dog generally isn’t that great in the (cold) weather.”

Ellison said outdoor cats who seem healthy probably have a place to live, but for those who appear to be suffering, residents should call the Royal Oak Police Department at (248) 246-3500 or create their own cat shelter.

To create a cat shelter, start with a 30-gallon tote for one to two cats. Cut a 5 1/2-inch-diameter hole — high enough to prevent moisture from entering — and insert a styrofoam cooler. Cut a hole in the styrofoam to match the tote, add straw, add the styrofoam lid and then add the tote lid.

Marie Skladd, president of the Michigan Animal Adoption Network, said that pet owners should not take risks with cold weather.

“When the temps fall dramatically, even healthy weight animals are at risk,” Skladd said. “Neighbors need to keep an eye out for animals living with little or no provisions, and report it to animal control.”

Neglect of an animal can result in criminal charges.

“There are different levels of animal cruelty, ranging from civil infractions to potential felonies,” Holland said. “If your dog freezes to death and it’s shown you knew there were risks and you didn’t have the appropriate shelter, then you could face penalties, including fees and jail time, or even being barred from adopting from shelters in the future.”

Berkley Public Safety Detective Lt. Andrew Hadfield, who assists with animal-related criminal investigations, said a judge sets the penalty for animal cruelty. Berkley Animal Control also patrols the city of Royal Oak.

For a misdemeanor, Hadfield said, a person can be given up to $1,000 in fines, 200 hours of community service and serve up to 93 days in jail. He also said jail time and higher fines can be possible if cruelty resulted in injury or death. 

If a violation involved two or three animals or the injury/death of an animal, it still would be a misdemeanor, but a person could be given up to $2,000 in fines, 300 hours of community service and up to a year in jail, Hadfield said. If four to 10 animals were involved, the crime now would be a felony and the individual would face up to two years in jail. For more than 10 animals, or if a person has two prior convictions, they could serve up to four years in jail.

To report a concern about a pet outdoors in Royal Oak, call (248) 246-3500.

Staff Writer Mike Koury contributed to this report.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006 and Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at (586) 279-1104.