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Editorial: Don’t forget about pets in cold weather

As bitter cold weather continues to grip much of North America, a few stories have cropped up about pets, dogs in particular, either being found frozen to death outside or chained outside in the cold.

Needless to say, if you don’t want to be outside in the bitter cold, your pets don’t either. Your dog may have a natural coat that will help keep it warm, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more immune to subfreezing temperatures and high winds than you are. Dogs, especially those without an undercoat, can get cold quite quickly. Bundle up and take pets outside to do their business and bring them back in rather than chaining them up outside so you can stay warm.

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Just like humans, pets exposed to cold temperatures for a lengthy period of time can experience hypothermia. If your pet has been exposed to the cold weather and is showing symptoms, including low respiration, violent shivering, and pale or blue gums, then warm it slowly to avoid shock and get it to a veterinarian immediately, suggests the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown.

Even if they don’t freeze, pets left outdoors can become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed, warns the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

With several days of sub-freezing temperatures ahead, it’s a good time to remind folks to check on elderly family members and neighbors, who have a greater risk of health problems and injuries when the weather gets frigid.

Both groups note there are many other hazards presented to pets by the cold weather.

Road salt used to melt ice, in particular, can be deadly if ingested. Pet owners should clean off their pet’s paws after being outdoors if they think their pet may have gotten salt on its paws. Animals may accidentally lick or eat the toxic salt when grooming themselves, so use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible.

After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals — and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes. The salt can be irritating or even painful to their paw pads. Massaging petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents, according to the ASPCA.

If you see a pet left outside in the cold or in a vehicle, speak up. The Humane Society of the United States suggests first politely letting the owner know you're concerned. If they don't respond well, document what you see: date, time, exact location and type of animal, plus as many details as possible. Video and photographic documentation will help. Then contact animal control, which here is the Humane Society of Carroll County (410-848-4810), or your local police agency. Take notes, then follow up in a few days if the situation hasn’t changed.

Temperatures are expected to remain in the teens the next few days, dipping into single digits overnight and wind chills making it feel as cold as 15 degrees below zero at times, according to the National Weather Service. It’s no time for anyone to be outside if they can help it, and that includes our four-legged friends.

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