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Editorial: Keep pets warm in winter

With subzero temperatures the norm lately, we've been hearing an awful lot about how to keep ourselves and our kids safe and healthy in cold weather.

But what about our furry friends?

We heard a report recently of cats running loose in town, and dogs being left outside all day in the cold, barking.

Like people, dogs and cats can be sensitive to the cold. While some breeds tolerate winter weather better than others, snow, ice and freezing temperatures can be just as much of a health risk for our pets as it can be for us.

One of the greatest dangers our pets face related to the cold is hypothermia, a condition in which the body temperature becomes too low for normal functioning.

Online veterinary sources say hypothermia is more common in animals that are short-haired, small, wet, or have no adequate shelter in extremely cold weather. Signs include violent shivering, slow and shallow respiration, and a slower heart rate. If left untreated, hypothermia can be fatal.

In addition to hypothermia, all warm-blooded creatures can fall victim to frostbite when exposed to the cold. While not generally life-threatening on its own, frostbite can result in scarring, infection, and, in worse cases, the need for amputation of the affected area.

In Perham, it's a violation of the city's pet ordinance to allow any animal to run at large, or to allow your dog to bark nonstop for more than three minutes. It's also a rule that pet owners must provide adequate shelter for their pets, including a confinement area maintained at a temperature suitable for their animal/s. Perham Police Chief Jason Hoaby said the city's rules regarding basic pet care mirror state laws, calling for kind treatment, sufficient food and water, housing in the winter and more. (For more specific information, see MN Statute 346.39).

Those who witness violations of these rules are encouraged to call the police department.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers the following suggestions to keep pets safe and warm in the winter:

• Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm, as dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.

• Thoroughly wipe off your dog's legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. He can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws, and his paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.

• Keep your cat inside. Outdoors, felines can freeze, become lost or be stolen, injured or killed. Cats who are allowed to stray are exposed to infectious diseases, including rabies, from other cats, dogs and wildlife.

• During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.

• Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in the colder months, be sure to completely dry him before taking him out for a walk. Own a short-haired breed? Consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.

• Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.

• Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train him inside. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.

• Does your dog spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities? Increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him, and his fur, in tip-top shape.

• Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.

• Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.

In addition, the American Kennel Club offers the common-sense suggestions of limiting your dog's time outdoors, providing adequate shelter from cold, wet and wind, and being extra careful when playing around frozen lakes, rivers or ponds.