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Dr. Patrick McKee, with Apple Valley Animal Hospital, gives Doug, a Bernese mountain dog, water on Wednesday. McKee says it's important to make sure you keep your pets warm and that their water does not freeze during cold weather.
By Nathaniel Axtell
Published: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 4:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
With forecasters calling for another bitter night Thursday, animal welfare experts are warning dog and cat owners to protect their pets from exposure when the mercury dips.
"The rule of thumb I've always followed is if it's too cold outside for you, it's too cold for your pets," said Nicole Carper, director of operations for the Blue Ridge Humane Society.
Carper recommends that pet owners keep their dogs and cats inside whenever the temperatures drop into the 30's. If that's not practical, she urges owners to provide outside pets with a dry and windproof shelter lined with insulated bedding.
"The igloo-type dog houses are really nice because they're fully enclosed," Carper said. "The bedding I always recommend is straw. A lot of people put blankets in there, but straw holds heat better than a blanket."
Dr. Patrick McKee of Apple Valley Animal Hospital said providing pets with respite from cold and wind is especially critical right now because this week's unseasonable shift in weather did not give animals much time to adapt. Even access to an attached garage with warm bedding is better than outside, he said.
Owners should pay special attention to smaller and short-haired dog breeds such as Boston Terriers and Miniature Pinschers, McKee said, as well as elderly and very young pets.
"The smaller the dog, the harder it is to keep itself warm," he said, adding that clothing toy breeds in jackets is a good idea when walking them during bitter weather. "If they're going to be outside for more than 5 minutes, especially with toy breeds, they can get cold very quickly."
Adequate food and water become even more essential during cold weather periods, McKee said. His hospital has dealt with "emergency situations" brought on by owners not realizing their pets' water source had frozen solid.
"And in colder weather, they tend to need to drink more, actually," he said. Pet stores sell heated water dishes and thermostatically-controlled bucket heaters, but McKee said another option is frequently changing the water.
Because pets burn more calories during cold weather, McKee said it's also important to increase their food intake slightly to ensure they have enough fuel to keep their cores warm.
Henderson County's animal ordinance requires owners to provide their domesticated animals with adequate shelter (livestock are exempt), food and water. The animal enforcement unit of the Henderson County Sheriff's Office has fielded three calls this week from citizens concerned about dogs in jeopardy, said Sgt. Mike Marsteller, but no violations were found.
Marsteller said a violation is considered animal mistreatment, which carries a $500 fine.
Carper said she routinely bangs on her car's hood before starting it up on cold mornings. That's because outdoor cats often crawl up near the warm engines and can be injured by or killed by the fan belt.
If you can't bring your cat inside, Carper said, owners should provide a small, enclosed cathouse filled with straw.
A simple and cheap cat shelter can be fashioned out of a 35-gallon tote and foam board. Instructions can be found at:
Beware of walking dogs on sidewalks that have been treated with de-icers, Carper said, some of which contain chemicals that are toxic if licked off by your pet. She advised wiping down paws after a snowy walk, while watching for painful ice balls that can clump up.