Protect pets from cold

Winter has officially arrived, along with the type of harsh weather conditions we should expect this season.

Already our local area has experienced nighttime temperatures in the teens this fall. Forecasts call for more of the same in the coming week. Predictions contain some rainy days and and snowfall, including some accumulation of the white stuff.

When such conditions set in, it’s time for us to bundle up and take some precautions to ensure we remain safe and healthy when we are outdoors. Our pets, however, cannot do that for themselves, so we need to be certain that we are caring for them properly as well.

Dogs and cats — and rabbits, livestock and our other four-legged friends — need appropriate shelter as the temperatures fall. These critters may have built-in fur coats, but that won’t be enough to protect them when conditions become bitterly cold and damp.

Any animal that spends the majority of its time outdoors should have a sturdy structure that it can enter any time it would like to warm up. That shelter should include a cozy area filled with warm bedding material, such as straw or old towels or blankets.

It’s also important to ensure that outdoor animals have easy access to plenty of nutritious food and fresh water. Animals tend to eat more during the winter, since they burn calories simply by generating their own heat. Water should be checked and replaced frequently to ensure it doesn’t freeze and become useless to your pet.

Perhaps the easiest way to be sure your pets and small animals remain safe during frigid conditions is to just bring them inside your home. Pets that aren’t housebroken can be sheltered in a basement or another area where cleanup would be a simple matter.

Dogs, whether they live indoors or out, require some special care during winter, according to the ASPCA. They should be toweled dry when returning indoors, and their paws and belly should be cleaned and dried to remove dampness, salt and other ice-melting chemicals from their skin and fur.

As a rule of thumb, remember that if it is too cold for you to be outside for any length of time, it is also too cold for your pets to remain safely outdoors.

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