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Protect outdoor pets from winter weather

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

As people prepare for the arrival of winter weather by purchasing warm coats, hats and gloves, pet lovers know that winter is a potentially dangerous time for outdoor pets.

According to Clay County Humane Society Director of Shelter Operations Bill Cochran, the main thing for pet owners to remember is when the temperature drops, pets need to have special care.

"If the temperature drops below 20 degrees, bring your pets inside," Cochran said. "If you can't, make sure you provide warm shelter for them."

For outside dogs, an appropriately sized doghouse, with dry bedding and insulation is crucial.

"A dog will curl up in a ball inside a nest of bedding and generate its own heat source inside a doghouse," Cochran said. "If the house is too big, the dog can loose body heat. Also remember to face the house to the south to keep the prevailing winds from the west and north from blowing inside."

He said installing a flap on the doorway of the house is also a good idea to help maintain heat inside.

Some pet owners use heat lamps to provide a heat source inside a doghouse, but the lamps can cause injury. Cochran urges pet owners to use a light bulb.

"The light can be hung out of the way, which helps protect the animal from being accidentally burned, and still provide a safe heat source," he said.

The same basic principals apply for outdoor cats.

"Cats like to roam around and hunt, so they might not want to go inside a doghouse," Cochran said. "A better way to provide shelter for them is to leave open a garage/barn door so they can get out of the wind, snow and rain. Put some loose bedding someplace inside so they can curl up and keep warm."

Winter is also a good time to give an outdoor pet a good brushing.

"Brush the dirt off a dog or cat's fur," Cochran said, explaining that dirty fur doesn't allow an animal to maintain proper body heat. "When a pet's fur can fluff up, they can retain body heat much better."

Which is why the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends pet owners do not cut the fur off of a pet in the wintertime. When animals shiver, they can loose body heat.

ASPCA offers a variety of unusual, but common sense tips for winter pet safety, including:

* Outdoor cats will seek a heat source, which will cause them to sleep under the hoods of cars, where they can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in the area, motorists should bang loudly on a car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape,

* More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags. A dog can lose their scent and easily become lost in the snow, and

* Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.

Cochran recommends that pet owners keep water and food dishes in a covered area to keep the dishes from becoming frozen and snow covered.

"Outdoor pets need to have a little more food during the winter months, because when shivering they burn more calories," Cochran said. "Pet owners need to also make sure they have plenty of water, so they need to check water dishes several times during a day."

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