As we face the next couple of months of having to tug on boots, button up heavy coats and don scarves and hats, animal experts are urging those with four-legged creatures in their lives to make sure their animals are well prepared for the cold as well.
Just what that means may not look the same for every animal to maintain a healthy body temperature.
“It's different for every animal,” said Stevie Hargenrater, animal cruelty officer in Crawford County. A lot of people don't understand the laws for horses,” she said for example. “We run into horses not having shelter very often.”
In general, for standard household pets, the main thing to keep them safe is simple.
“Don't keep your pet unattended outside. That's the key,” Hargenrater said. If a pet cannot be kept at home indoors alone, Hargenrater recommended a facility such as a doggie daycare or kennel.
“If there is a chance they could die of exposure, why risk it?” she said.
That's not to say pets cannot be outdoors at all. In fact, some breeds love the cold and snow. One still has to be watchful, though.
"Let the dog decide when it comes in and goes outside,” Hargenrater said.
When bringing pets indoors, the ASPCA has tips at www.aspca.org for pet owners to protect the animals. They suggest towel drying paws immediately to remove chemicals, ice and salt. If a dog licks its paws, chemicals could be lethal. Using petroleum jelly on paws before a walk also can help protect. Other suggestions include bathing pets as little as possible to prevent dry skin, keeping a longer coat on the animal, and feeding a pet a bit more to provide extra calories when pets burn extra energy to stay warm.
While outside, there are some steps to ensure safety.
“If they have shelter, they can be out there as long as they can maintain their body heat,” Hargenrater said.
Age of the animal matters. A young puppy or an elderly animal will be more at risk. Dogs must have access to a four-sided structure with a roof and bedding. It must be large enough to fit in but small enough to contain their body heat, Hargenrater said. Also, according to state law, a dog may not be tethered longer than nine hours within 24 hours, and it cannot be tethered more than 30 minutes at a time if the temperature drops below freezing.
Dogs in outdoor kennels also must have available shelter that can be reached without obstruction. Even dogs who hunt and must be adapted to the cold need attention, Hargenrater said. When it is not working and running, it is still susceptible to frostbite in extreme cold.
A danger in rural areas is that it is common for people to have been raised with keeping dogs on chains, Hargenrater said.
“They don't realize the risks that come with it,” she said. “'It's a big problem up north.”
For all kinds of animals, making sure they have access to clean water that is not frozen is mandatory, Hargenrater said. Animals such as horses, llamas, alpacas, sheep and goats have to have a clean and dry three-sided structure with a roof. Cattle must have something to break the wind, such as a side of a barn or grove of trees. Pigs must have a four-sided structure with a door and bedding. Outdoor rabbits must have a hutch or box in which they can burrow.
Hargenrater said most of the reports she receives end up being a case of someone providing shelter, but that shelter being broken or inadequate. When deciding whether to report an animal suspected to be neglected, Hargenrater suggested people take note of the animal's body language, whether it seems alert, happy and content, or whether it seems injured or sick. Reports can be made by calling or texting Hargenrater at (814) 807-4082 or the county's second officer, Eric Duckett at (814) 572-5913.
When it comes down to it, Hargenrater said an animal's life has value, and she simply tells people to treat them they way they want to be treated.
“If it's not a life they don't want to live themselves, then don't put a pet through it,” she said.