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Norwich Bulletin - 1/22/2006

It's Cold Outside

I don't know about anyone else, but winter is not my choice of weather for spending time in the great outdoors. Imagine if someone gave you a nice warm coat (and even threw in gloves and a hat) and told you to spend 8 to 10 hours hanging around outside in frigid temperatures. Of course, they could always make it lots better by throwing in a small wooden house with some hay, or maybe even an old blanket.

If you are not thrilled with the picture I have just painted, chances are your poor dog or cat isn't too happy either. For some reason, humans think that because animals have fur, they don't get cold. I am not quite sure how that philosophy came about, but I can assure you that most animals get very cold and the few dogs that are bred for cold weather also have their limitations. Just look at all the cases of frost bite the vets treat every winter.

Cats are small creatures, with the average weight between six and eleven pounds. Whether they have fur or not, they are cold and subject to hypothermia and frostbite. Little dogs do not fare any better either. And I have seen some large breed dogs shivering in the cold, tied or kenneled during some very bitter cold days.

The answer is to bring your animals inside when it is below freezing and do not expect them to sleep outside during the winter. If you are one of those people who do not allow your animals inside (at which point the question becomes why have an animal in the first place), or you are taking care of feral or semi feral cats, then here are some important tips for you to keep in mind during the winter months.

The second best choice to letting your pet in the house, is to use your basement or garage for a winter home for your pet . Our semi feral cats know that our garage is their safe haven. They have beds, cat furniture, a couch with soft pillows, and lots of food, water and litter in the garage. Every night most of them get into the garage before the doors close and if it is extremely cold or if there is rain or snow, they spend the day in the garage as well. For the cat who fails to make it into the garage by the ninth hour, we have several houses and igloos filled with straw for insulation that they can cuddle into for one night.

If your animal ends up out in the cold, it is important to consider how the season will affect your pet. Improper shelters, lack of fresh water, antifreeze poisoning, frostbite or hyporthermia are very real threats that need to be prevented. To start with, make sure you inspect your pet's paws regularly to make sure the pads are not cracked or nails broken. You might also consider shoes or booties to protect their paws and provide coats and sweaters to help keep them warm.

Adding straw to your dog and cat houses will help insulate them. It is important to make sure any beds you are using do not sit directly on cold ground or concrete. You could even use wooden palettes to put inside large dog houses, basements and garages and put the bedding on the palettes. It is very important to watch for antifreeze leaks as even a small amount will cause death in a very short time. And even when you are letting your pets inside - watch fireplaces and wood stoves. Protective screens and supervision around the fires is essential to keep your pet and your house safe!

Frostbite is a very real and painful problem during the winter months. Frostbite most frequently affects ears, toes, tail and other areas least covered by fur. The skin becomes red and swollen and very pale and white. To treat frostbite you need to immerse the area in warm water for 15-20 minutes (NEVER USE HOT WATER) and then get to your vet ASAP. Remember, home treatment should only be attempted if you cannot get to a vet due to the time of day you discover the frostbite.

Hypothermia occurs when a pet has been exposed to very cold temperatures or winds for an extended period of time. NEVER LEAVE YOUR PET OUTSIDE WITHOUT A PROTECTED AREA. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, low body temperature, drowsiness or exhaustion. You need to raise your pet's body temperature as quickly as possible. Surround your pet in hot water bottles, warm towels, heating pad, etc. and try to get him to drink warm liquids. Again, it is imperative to get to your vet as soon as you can.

For the poor, homeless feral cats that have nowhere to go, heated water bowls, heated beds and extra food are all musts during the winter. These kitties will not trust any human enough to be brought inside, so you need to do what little you can, to help them through these cold times.

But for your own animals that you profess to love and cherish, you should be bringing them into the warmth of your home and protecting them from the perils of winter.

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