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Norwich Bulletin - 1/14/2007

Wintertime Is Indoor Time

Although I enjoy living in New England, I do not enjoy winter sports. If I was expected to stay outside 8 to 10 hours a day in frigid temperatures, even with a nice warm coat, gloves and a hat over my ears. I would be loudly complaining. And if anyone expected me to spend the night outside, they would certainly have a screw or two loose. I would have to vehemently decline, even if they threw in a warm blanket and little wooden house.

Itís pretty obvious to me that my dogs or outside cats arenít thrilled with the idea of spending below freezing days outside. I canít figure out why humans would think that because animals have fur, they don't get cold. I am not quite sure how that belief got started, but I can assure you that most animals get very cold. Even the few dogs that are bred for cold weather also have their limitations.

Cats are small creatures, with the average weight between six and eleven pounds. Whether they have fur or not, when the temperatures go down, they are cold and subject to hypothermia and frostbite. Little dogs have it worse than cats because they are not used to being outside even in the nice weather. And I have seen some large breed dogs shivering in the cold, tied or kenneled during some very bitter cold days.

The answer, of course, is bring your animals inside when it is below freezing and do not expect them to sleep outside during the winter (unless you are prepared to sleep outside with them). 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 you need the following important tips for you to keep in mind during the winter months.

If the animals cannot come inside the house then you need to offer your basement or garage to your pet. And if you donít have either of those to offer your pet, go out and buy a nice little storage house like a Carefree Building. Our feral cats know that the garage is their safe haven for the winter. They have beds, cat furniture, old chairs and couches, 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. After all, who cares if you can put your car in the garage Ė thatís just a machine. For the cat who fails to make it into the garage when it is time to shut the door for the night, we have several houses and igloos filled with straw for insulation that they can cuddle into and be safe from the cold winds.

If your adamant that your poor animal is going to end up out in the cold for the winter, it is important to consider how the season will affect your pet. Improper shelters, lack of fresh water, antifreeze poisoning, frostbite or hypothermia are very real threats that need to be prevented. 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 then there is the threat of frostbite.

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. The first thing to do is get your pet to a vet ASAP and if you cannot then in order to treat frostbite you need to immerse the area in warm water for 15-20 minutes (NEVER USE HOT WATER) and then follow up at the vet.

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. In order to save your petís life you will 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.

Heated water bowls, heated beds and extra food are all musts during the winter, especially for feral cats who have no chance of finding any type of indoor protection. But please remember, the preferred way to care for your pets during the winter, is to bring them inside.

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