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Pet owners should take measures during cold weather

As Carroll County enters the thick of winter, and temperatures plummet, certain measures should be implemented to ensure the safety and comfort of household pets, said Nicky Ratliff, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County.

Pet owners should take into account the health, age, coat and breed of an animal when it relates to its ability to endure harsh conditions, Ratliff said.

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"Requirements for a healthy husky are decidedly different than that of a healthy pug," she said.

Since outdoor cats are not typically bound or restrained in an outdoor shelter, they often will seek out warm nooks and crannies, sheltering them from the weather. Ratliff warned, however, that their personal cubbyhole might be under the hood of a car. During the winter, Ratliff said she always honks her horn to ensure some feline isn't taking refuge.

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Dogs, on the other hand, are only permitted to be chained for 12 hours at a time, regardless of conditions, Ratliff said, and certain standards for shelters must be met, per county ordinance.

Between Dec. 1 and March 15, or whenever the real or effective temperature is 35 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, dog shelters should be weather proof, with a self-closing door or protective flap. Their bedding should be kept dry, and fresh water, without should be made available twice daily.

The best bedding for dogs is straw, as blankets and comforters tend to absorb moisture, and wood chips can lead to respiratory issues, Ratliff said. A makeshift shelter for a cat could be made out of an old ice chest with a hollowed out hole as an entrance and newspaper lining. Water should be maintained at room temperature, she said.

The ordinance, adopted in the '80s, is enforced by the Humane Society, said Jason Green, the county's code official.

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Ratliff said that if you observe a suffering household pet - a dog shivering without shelter - you should report it to the Humane Society. An address and distinguishing feature, like color, of the home is helpful in these instances. Depending on the severity of the situation, staff might either follow up with a phone call or a visit to the address immediately, or within one business day.

"Most of these calls are that they didn't see the dog had the shelter, but it did, or they didn't see it had water, but it did," Ratliff said.

Debbie Winkler, part-owner of Humane Domain, an animal behavior consultation service in Sykesville, said she believes all household pets should be brought inside during the winter.

She will bundle up and walk outside with her dogs, to monitor them, and always uses Safe Paw, a pet-safe ice melter. Traditional salt can burn the pads on an animal's paw, she said.

"This type of cold weather scares me," Winkler said. "I don't want to be kept in it, so animals shouldn't either."

Prolonged weather exposure can lead to hypothermia, according to Dr. Nicholas Herrick, co-owner of Airpark Animal Hospital in Westminster.

Cats are usually much more resilient to weather, he said, with dogs being more at risk. Some breeds, like a husky or samoyed are also engineered to withstand freezing temperatures, while some like a greyhound will never develop the proper protective coat.

"Outdoor dogs, if they're healthy, can be fine if they are purely outdoors, but if you switch from indoors to out, they might not be accustomed to the cold," Herrick said.

Dogs will shiver violently in the early stages of hypothermia, but may become lethargic or completely unmoving in extreme hypothermia - a dog's temperature runs an average of 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and anything below 99 represents a danger zone, Herrick said.

Owners, as a proactive measure, can also increase the amount of food they give their pets by as much as 20 or 30 percent during the winter, Herrick said. More calories allows them to maintain their fatty reserves and stay warm. Dry food may be supplemented by more wet food.

"Increasing the fat in their diet is helpful," Herrick said.

Ratliff said that an owner should also groom a pet's coat, to ensure it provides adequate insulation. Longer hair can mat and icicles can condense on it.

"Owners should exercise their better judgment, always," she said.

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