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Cold Weather Tips for Pet Owners

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Although an animal has a fur coat, that does not mean it can be left outside in the cold for long periods of time. Credits: Amy Schetelich
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WEST ORANGE, NJ -- As blizzard conditions are expected to hit West Orange this weekend, residents are reminded to keep in mind that pets feel the cold, too. Just because pets have fur, does not mean they can tolerate long periods of cold.

The Humane Society of the United States offers information on ways to help one’s pets get through the winter safely and in good health

Forcing one’s pet to stay outside in cold weather could lead to serious health problems. If a person feels cold enough to go into the house, a pet is probably ready to go in, too.

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In addition, just like people, older pets with arthritis and joint issues experience more pain in cold weather. Although every animal reacts to cold weather differently, the best advice is to pay attention to them and watch for signs of discomfort.

Cold weather tips to keep pets safe

  • When the thermometer dips below freezing, keep dogs and cats indoors as much as possible. If pets must stay outside, provide a warm shelter, raised a few inches off the ground, with the opening facing away from the wind and covered with a flap. The shelter should be large enough for animals to stand and turn around, but small enough to retain body heat. 
  • If pets are outdoors for extended periods when temperatures are below freezing (32F), be alert for signs of distress. Shivering is a sign that body temperature is dropping. Bring shivering pets inside.
  • Pets that are very young, very old or beset with health problems are more vulnerable to the cold (just like humans).
  • Don’t leave pets in an unheated vehicle for extended periods of time.
  • Pets can pick up rock salt and other melting chemicals in paw pads. Try doggie booties or rubbing petroleum jelly onto paws before going outside to protect from salt and chemicals.
  • Make sure pets have clean, unfrozen drinking water. Drinking from puddles can be deadly if the water contains antifreeze or other harmful chemicals. Antifreeze is particularly dangerous because it has an attractive scent and taste for animals and is extremely poisonous. A first sign of such poisoning is a pet that appears drunk. Ingesting anti-freeze can kill an animal in four to eight hours. If it is suspected that an animal has ingested antifreeze, immediately contact the vet.  
  • If there are outdoor cats, which are either owned pets or community cats (feral cats, who are scared of people, and strays, who are lost or abandoned pets) in one’s area, it is important to remember that they need protection from the elements as well as food and water. It's easy to give them a hand.
  • Warm engines in parked cars often attract cats and small wildlife that may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, remember to bang on the car's hood to scare them away before starting the engine.
  • If one encounters a pet left in the cold, it is a good idea to “politely” let the owner know of concern. If they don't respond well, document what you see: the date, time, exact location and type of animal, plus as many details as possible. Video and photographic documentation (even a cell phone photo) will help bolster the case. Then contact the local animal control agency or county sheriff's office and present the evidence. Take detailed notes regarding whom you speak with and when. Respectfully follow up in a few days if the situation has not been remedied. 

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