Much of the nation will be getting an early preview of winter this week as temperatures threaten record lows at dozens of locations, including parts of the South not used to freezing conditions at this time of year.
That means pulling out the heavy coats from storage – and making accommodations for keeping pets safe and comfortable.
Animal-care experts suggest that, as a rule of thumb, if the weather outside is too cold for humans to withstand, they should bring their pets inside and let them out just long enough to do their bodily functions. When dogs shiver in the cold, they’re showing clear signs of discomfort.
“Some people think, ‘Well, he’s a husky, I can leave him out while I’m at work.’ They don’t want to be out there,’’ said Chris Whitmore, an animal services coordinator in Iowa City, which is expecting snow and a low of 7 degrees Monday. “He might enjoy it when you’re there to watch him, but when it’s this cold, we always tell people, ‘Don’t leave your pet outside. It’s just not safe.’’’
Whitmore and other authorities in the field offered a number of tips for the millions of American animal lovers who will be dealing with chilly weather in the coming days. Among them:
Cover them up: Dogs with thicker coats have higher tolerance to cold weather, but short-haired breeds such as chihuahuas, beagles and greyhounds don’t have much natural shield from the elements. If taking them out for a walk of more than a few minutes, put a sweater or coat on them. Booties provide added protection for their feet if your dog will tolerate them.
That part of their bodies is especially vulnerable to the rock salt often used as an ice-melting agent, which irritates paws and can be harmful if swallowed. Once back inside, make sure to wipe off the dog’s feet and belly with a moist rag.
Watch out for the wind chill: It’s not just the thermometer reading that matters.
“The wind takes your body temperature away from you,’’ Whitmore said. “The wind chill is the worst part when it gets this cold.’’
Knock on the car hood or blow the horn: Cats have a knack for finding warm spots when it’s cold, but oftentimes that can be a wheel well or a nook underneath the hood of a car that was recently turned off. The noise from a knock or the horn will scare them away.
“Every winter we get cases where a cat has been killed or severely injured because they were napping near the engine and the engine was turned on,’’ said Rob Halpin, director of public relations for a branch of the Massachusetts SPCA in Boston, where the mercury is expected to dip into the low 20s Tuesday and Wednesday.
Beware of antifreeze: Animals are drawn to the smell and sweet taste of ethylene glycol in regular antifreeze, which crystallizes in their lungs and kills them. Colder temperatures often remind drivers to add antifreeze to their vehicles, and spillages become hazardous to animals.
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There is a pet-safe version of antifreeze that uses propylene glycol instead – some states require its use – but it’s more expensive and some drivers eschew it.
Go out with them: As uncomfortable as it might be, it’s best to take dogs out to do their business instead of letting them roam by themselves in the yard. Though most dogs will want to scurry back where it’s warm, some may not be able to resist chasing a squirrel or running around.
“They’re like children. They don’t know when they’re starting to get frostbite, hypothermia, so you have to be the responsible one,’’ Whitmore said.
Don’t leave pets in the car: The Chicago branch of PAWS says cold weather can create “a freezer-like environment’’ inside a car that’s turned off, so it discourages owners from traveling with their pets during the winter. If pets must come along, they shouldn’t be let alone in the vehicle even for short spells.
Set up a warm place to sleep: Keep pets away from any draft and off the floor by providing them a bed or basket with a blanket or pillow in it.
Shelter, food and water: Stray cats can withstand temperatures around 15-20 degrees but are in danger of hypothermia when the mercury drops lower. Some cities give away small, insulated boxes that serve as shelter for cats – they can also be made easily out of Styrofoam coolers – and volunteers or other residents spread them around.
“That can mean the difference between life and death for an outdoor cat or cats,’’ Halpin said.
For people who like to look after neighborhood cats that may visit from time to time, experts suggest leaving food and warm water available to them. It’s important the water remain liquid because hydration is critical to maintaining proper body temperature.
More info: Check on the websites of animal-protection organizations such as the Humane Society and the ASPCA.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cold weather: How to keep pets safe amid record arctic temperatures