Snow safety key for pets

As temperatures drop throughout the region over the next few days, pet owners should be cautious about the effects the cold can have on their furry friends.

Jill Reigh, director of outreach and marketing at the Central PA Humane Society, said it’s easy to forget that animals feel chilly, too, when their humans are all bundled up. According to the National Weather Services, wind chill temperatures could be below zero tonight.

“If it’s too cold for you to be out, and you’ve got boots on or shoes on – he’s in his bare feet,” Reigh said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends that owners choose not to shave their pets to the skin or have them sleep on the floor during the winter, according to the group’s website.

Denise Nickodemus, an associate veterinarian at Lakemont Veterinary Clinic in Altoona, said that smaller or short-haired breeds can benefit by having a sweater or coat put on before they’re taken outside.

Even though it may be inconvenient, Nickodemus recommends that dog owners go with their pets if they’re taking them outside, especially for an elderly pet.

“Nobody wants to go out themselves, but it’s best to step out with them,” she said. “With older dogs it’s a must as they’re more prone to falling on the ice.”

She said that an owner who suspects his or her pet has gotten frostbite should contact a veterinarian right away.

Matt Stachmus, a veterinarian with Pleasant Valley Animal Hospital in Altoona, said the cold temperatures tend to be more of an issue for younger pets. Young pets, he said, don’t have the fat stores of their older counterparts.

Cats should be kept indoors to prevent them from getting lost in the snow. If they must be outdoors, owners should make sure their cats have access to shelter.

Outdoor and feral cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars, according to the ASPCA, so for those who live around outdoor cats, bang on the car hood to give them a chance to escape unharmed.

Dogs, too, can get lost in the snow if they’re not kept on a leash, Nickodemus said.

“They lose the scent when there’s a lot of ice and snow,” she said, “and they do get lost much more easily.”

Both outdoor dogs and cats should have collars and ID tags to help identify them if they do get lost. Microchips make this even easier, Nickodemus said, as pets can shrug off a collar.

Reigh said pets shouldn’t be tied outside for long periods in the winter, as they have limited access to the things they need to survive. Water, for instance, freezes quickly, she said, and can lead to dehydration if an owner doesn’t check it frequently.

A tethered animal that can’t reach a warm shelter, food or water is “helpless,” she said.

“It’s important that people just keep in mind that when it’s cold, your animal isn’t any better off than you are,” Reigh said.

Nickodemus said owners who keep their dogs outside need to ensure that they have a “well-insulated” shelter that protects them from the wind, and bringing pets into a garage can help protect them better.

Stachmus said dwellings should also keep the pets away from moisture, as heat can evaporate as its fur dries. Some breeds of dogs, he said, are more susceptible to the cold than others.

“Not all dogs are created equal in their abilities thermoregulate,” Stachmus said.

Another concern for pet owners in the winter is the effects of rock salt and other ice melts on an animal’s health. Aside from potential poisoning, some ice melt products can dry out the animal’s skin and paw pads.

Stachmus said, though, that poisoning from ice salt is rare.

“I don’t really see that too often. I just make people aware it is theoretically possible that dogs could ingest salt,” he said. “Obviously too much of anything is not a good thing.”

Nickodemus recommends that dog owners wipe down their pets after taking them outside to remove the ice melt. If an owner is taking their dog for a walk, he or she should bring a towel to help clean off the animal’s feet.

“Most of the time they’re just going to get some irritation to the feet, maybe some bleeding or cracked pads,” she said.

Pet-friendly ice melts are available and recommended, she said.

Nickodemus said owners should also keep antifreeze in a location that pets can’t reach, as it is poisonous.

“Antifreeze can be fatal very quickly to both dogs and cats,” she said.

Reigh said the shelter sees a spike in calls during the winter months, as neighbors see animals outside during storms. She said that if an animal seems to be in danger, the owner should be alerted first, but otherwise, the Humane Society Police will come investigate.

“If people do see problems like that then they certainly are encouraged to call our Humane officers and report it,” she said.

In the case of an animal emergency, the local Humane Society officers can be reached at 942-3780.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer 946-7535.