MURRAY — With the Murray-Calloway County area caught in the grip of an Arctic airmass that sent the morning low below zero degrees Tuesday, pet owners are being reminded to take extra care with dogs and cats.
Humane Society of Calloway County Executive Director Kathy Hodge said dogs are especially vulnerable in this situation, particularly puppies and older animals.
“Puppies and really old dogs can’t take this,” Hodge said, adding that the idea of bringing a dog out of the elements can have multiple meanings. “If it’s a dog that’s used to being outside, we’re not necessarily talking about bringing it into the house and letting it lie in front of the fireplace. As a matter of fact, that can be pretty dangerous because of the temperature contrast of going from really warm inside to being back outside in this weather for long periods of time.
“What you want to do for a dog that’s used to being outside is you want to maybe put them in a garage or a shed or a shop, something that can get them out of the wind and the cold. Then, you give them a blanket and you make sure they have plenty of food and water. That way you’re not having that big contrast is temperature as you would if you brought them into the house.”
She also said that there is a misconception about certain breeds.
“I hear all of the time, ‘Well, it’s a Siberian husky. It’s used to being out in the cold and snow, right?’ What you have to remember is that while, yes, that is a breed that is more used to weather in Alaska or Canada, down here, they’ve been accustomed to another climate. We don’t have the weather down here that they do in those places,” she said. “Here, their coats are not going to be as thick as they would be in Alaska, so just because it is a breed that is suited for colder weather, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be protected when it gets really cold here.
“Plus, if they’re going to be outside, and it’s snowing or sleeting, their coats are going to get wet and then you could be talking about hypothermia.”
Hypothermia has several symptoms.
“The first will be shivering, but you also will notice the dog hunched over. Also, if a dog is lifting its paws off the ground, that is a sign that its feet are hurting because they’ve become too cold,” Hodge said. “Eventually, they may go lethargic and their muscles go stiff and you’ll notice that they are not really alert. If you see this, call a vet as soon as you can.”
Dogs and cats that are inside animals need to be watched too, especially when nature calls. Particularly for homes with no fenced-in yard, she said the rules may have to change.
“Usually, you can let them out and they come right back with no problem. In this weather, though, they’re out for like an hour or 45 minutes, that can be a problem, so you might want to go ahead and put them on a leash while their outside. That way, you’re taking the possibility of them staying out too long out of the equation,” she said.
Hodge said the cats that would be of particular concern for this type of weather are feral creatures for whom home or business owners might leave food outside. She said that, while these cats are quite cunning and usually have found suitable shelter on their own, a little human help never hurts.
“You can get a cardboard box and cut a hole out of the side and then put a trash bag on top. I also like to take a big plastic tub and cut a hole in the side of it and maybe place some foam inside to give them a warm place to stay,” she said, adding that, while the intentions are noble, they can go unappreciated.
“Yeah, I had one lady tell me she tried the plastic tub idea once. She said the cat did come, but he sat on top of the tub the whole time.”
Hodge also had one more piece of advice for dog owners that is unrelated to cold-weather shelter. For owners who utilize their neighborhood streets for walks, she suggests cleaning their paws upon returning home, preferably before re-entering the house.
“That is because the road salt and brine can get on their paws,” she said. “First, that salt can actually hurt their paws. The second thing is, if they lick their paws, it can be poisonous because of all of the chemicals that go into making that salt.”