When temperatures plunge, bring pets indoors

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 25, 2019


MADISON HEIGHTS — It’s been a mild winter so far, but there have still been days and nights where the temperature dropped to what felt like single digits. This has prompted experts in animal care to remind residents that as a general rule of thumb, if it’s too cold outside for humans, it’s too cold for pets.

Justin Holland, the animal control officer for the city of Madison Heights, said that some dog breeds like huskies are well-adapted to cold weather, but even they shouldn’t be left outside for too long. Short-haired pets such as chihuahuas are especially vulnerable, since they don’t have an undercoat that traps warm air against their skin.

He said that residents should watch for animals in their neighborhood that appear to be left outside in the cold and call animal control at (248) 837-2784. Holland or another officer will check in on the animal to make sure it’s OK, and that it has adequate food and shelter in its yard. He also said that animal control will keep the identity of the caller anonymous.

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.”

The Animal Care Network recently issued a warning about “feels like” temperatures in the single digits in metro Detroit. The 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 outside warmer.

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 that live outside can freeze, get lost, 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 should keep the animal alive by warming — but be gradual.

“Warming up the animal too fast can actually harm the animal,” 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.”

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.”