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Pets need to be kept warm

January 02, 2002

Pets need to be kept warm



By JULIE E. GREENE
julieg@herald-mail.com


Vigilance and common sense are two key factors to ensure your pet stays safe and warm this winter, the executive director of a Franklin County humane society said Monday.

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With winter's arrival and wind chills reaching single digits, and even 10 degrees below zero on Monday morning in Hagerstown, it's important to make sure pets are protected from frigid conditions.

If you're cold outside with your coat on, then your thick-coated dog is cold outside too, said Candy Bennett of the Antietam Humane Society in Waynesboro, Pa.

Bring your pets indoors whenever possible, Bennett said.

Obviously, short-haired dogs are predisposed to dislike cold weather, Bennett said.

While her short-haired beagle would suffer outside, her Great Pyrenees - with its woolly fur - loves the outdoors, even when it's cold, Bennett said.

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Besides its coat, consider whether your dog is conditioned for cold weather, Bennett said.

"If you want to be able to leave a dog outside for any length of time, it needs to be acclimated to the colder weather," said veterinarian Tracy Barlup with Longmeadow Animal Hospital. "You can't all of a sudden decide to put a dog out now that hasn't been outside."

Even breeds of dogs that are known for living in cold temperatures need time to acclimate and grow thick winter coats.

Dogs and cats that stay inside most of the time shed often instead of growing a thick fur coat, Barlup said.

Animals that are outside all year can acclimate faster because their fur coat gets thicker as it gets colder.

With warm temperatures extending into the late fall, even animals that normally stay outside year-round might not have had time to grow thick coats for the sudden dip in temperature, Barlup said.

Barlup recommends acclimating them gradually by first putting them in the garage to get used to colder weather or leaving them outside for 30 minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time they spend outside.

This gives their fur coat a chance to adapt.

Even a dog with a thick fur coat should be taken in during severe cold weather, Barlup said. Taking a dog into the basement or garage can be an improvement over the wind chill and freezing temperatures outdoors.

Short-haired dogs that stay indoors may not want to go out in the cold for a walk or to do their business, Barlup said. Put a doggie coat on them to help maintain their body temperature while they take a quick break.

If your dog or cat is spending a lot of time outdoors this winter, make sure it has proper shelter, water and food.

Doghouses should be insulated and draft-free. They should have their own floors or be raised on wooden pallets to keep the dogs off the cold ground, Bennett said.

Use lots of bedding, such as straw or hay, to give dogs a dry place to rest. Blankets hold moisture, so if you use them, check them often to make sure they aren't damp, Bennett said.

Place the doghouse so the prevailing winds and snow can't enter, Bennett said. A flap made of thick, clear plastic over the opening also can help.

While cats are often indoor animals, there are outdoor cats that seem to get along fine in winter weather conditions, Bennett said.

"They seem to take care of themselves somewhat better," Bennett said.

Cats can get in and out of small places easier than dogs, which helps them find warm spots during cold spells, Barlup said.

Cats find their own "insulated houses," whether it's a garage, a seldom-used building or a basement window well where they can nestle away from the wind, Barlup said.

Unfortunately, some cats will climb under a car to get close to the engine after it's been turned off, she said.

Barlup recommends knocking on the car's hood or making some noise to scare the cat away before restarting the engine.

Check at least a couple of times a day to make sure your dog or cat has fresh water that hasn't frozen, Bennett said.

A device can be bought to keep water bowls warm, but Bennett is reluctant to depend solely on that device. The water still should be checked regularly.

Pets that stay outdoors will need high-energy diets with more protein since they need more calories to maintain their body temperatures, Bennett said.

This food usually is referred to as performance diet on the packaging, Barlup said. You can supplement the pet's regular diet with it or gradually switch to the performance diet in five to seven days.

The humane society will investigate complaints of animals not being properly sheltered, Bennett said.

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