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When temperatures drop, veterinarians say it is best to keep short-haired pets out of extreme weather. Photo illustration

Originally published: 2014-01-04 15:17:49
Last modified: 2014-01-04 15:17:49

Protect pets in winter

by Anna Oakes

Last week the High Country felt its most frigid temperatures of the season, with the mercury forecasted to sink even lower on Monday.

As you bundle up in extra layers and crank up the heat inside, don't leave your furry friends out in the cold.

The Watauga Humane Society and other animal advocates remind pet owners to take extra precautions to keep them safe and comfortable when temperatures drop and when snow and ice fall.

"The real rule of thumb is: Would you be comfortable out there?" said Laurie Vierheller, executive director of the Watauga Humane Society. "They're not wild animals; they're domestic pets, and they get cold, too."

Animals can suffer from frostbite, hypothermia, skin conditions and respiratory illnesses because of exposure to winter weather, Vierheller noted.

"If the temperature drops below 40 degrees, the animals should come inside," she said. "They just really should be in a heated space."

If there is absolutely no way to bring animals inside, Vierheller said, owners must remember their three basic needs: food, water and shelter.

"The water is going to freeze; you have to replace that water," she said. "Make sure they have shelter from the wind. Make sure that they have plenty of food to keep their energy up."

The Humane Society of the United States recommends a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough for the pet to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in body heat. The organization suggests raising the shelter floor a few inches off of the ground and covering it with cedar shavings or straw. The shelter should be turned to face away from the wind.

Animal Emergency & Pet Care Clinic veterinarian Sarah R. Cooper said cold-related injuries to pets are not as common as heat-related injuries in the summer, but "we definitely see a handful."

"The most common ones are going to be dogs that have been out running in icy and snowy ground that will end up with cracked and bleeding paws," Cooper said. "They can get snow and ice trapped in their pads, which can lead to cracking and splitting (and be) pretty painful."

Nordic breeds of dogs such as Huskies and Malamutes are not as susceptible to such injuries, Cooper said, but short-haired breeds are not meant for running in the snow.

Cooper recommends that dogs going on hikes or extended runs wear foot protection in the winter.

Sadly, Cooper said, "one of the other things that we often see at least one time every winter is dogs that fall through the ice on partially frozen ponds and drown. We rarely get ice that freezes thick enough to support the weight of a dog."

Pet owners must be on the lookout to ensure their dogs don't attempt to tread on frozen bodies of water, she said.

"They should take the same precautions with their dogs that they do with themselves," Cooper further advised. "Even just three or four hours on a cold day in the teens could make a dog hypothermic unless they're a breed with a very thick coat."

Those with feral cats in their neighborhood might also consider creating a shelter to protect these vulnerable animals. Online resources such as provide instructions to build simple shelters to keep cats warm and dry in bad weather.

"Feral cats, just like any cat, can suffer from exposure," Vierheller said. "By building those shelters on your property, it gives them a place to go other than under a porch - they can get stuck under there."

For more information about protecting domestic animals in the winter, contact the Watauga Humane Society at (828) 264-7865.