Okay, well maybe it's not that cold today. We seem to be experiencing a warming trend at the moment, but it's only February, so you can bet your bunny slippers that we'll have another cold snap or two before the temperature begins its steady rise toward our familiar southern heat wave. With that in mind, let's talk about pets and cold weather.
Many people believe that an animal's natural fur coat will protect them against the cold, but that's not necessarily true. Fur does provide some insulation, but not enough to prevent frostbite and hypothermia. No pet should be left outdoors in freezing weather.
Speaking of fur coats, veterinary professionals recommend keeping grooming to a minimum in the winter. Frequent baths can deplete essential oils and increase dry, flaky skin. If your dog must be bathed, use a moisturizing shampoo. Leave coats long for extra warmth and consider a coat or sweater for shorthaired breeds.
When taking your dog for a walk in the cold, be mindful of their exposed paw pads. While more resilient than human feet, paw pads are still susceptible to frostbite and they can also absorb antifreeze and other chemicals on the ground. Consider a dollop of petroleum jelly to protect your dog's paws outside.
Sadly, many pets have larger challenges than dry skin or exposed paw pads. The most common calls we receive at the SPCA Albrecht Center during the coldest days of winter are from citizens concerned about animals left outside, usually dogs who are chained or fenced, unable to access shelter for themselves.
Since we are not an animal control agency, those calls have to be forwarded to the proper authorities, but here are some important things to remember if you witness a dog left out in the cold:
Jot down as many details as possible. Note the date, time, exact location, type and description of the animal involved.
Contact your local animal control or law enforcement authority. In the City of Aiken, call Public Safety at 803-642-7620. Outside of city limits, call Aiken County Animal Control at 803-642-1537.
Follow up in a few days if the situation has not been resolved.
If your concern is for a cat, the same rules apply if the cat is an owned pet. For feral or community cats though, here's how you can help:
Check before you crank. Outdoor cats sometimes sleep under car hoods to stay warm, which can lead to injury when the motor starts. Bang loudly on your hood before starting the engine to give cats a chance to escape.
Cats are often great about finding shelter on their own, but this can sometimes lead them to dangerous places, like above, or to areas where they are not wanted. You can help by building a cheap and effective cat shelter. Click here for links to articles and videos on buildiing or purchasing ourdoor cat shelters. This video is particularly easy!
If you're unsure about the well-being of your pet or another animal during winter, remember: if it's too cold for you, it's probably too cold for them. Keep your pets inside and do whatever you can to help pets that are left outside.
If you have questions, or need suggestions, call us, we're here to help: 803-648-6863.
Sarah Neikam is the Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah lives in Graniteville with her husband, Tom, mother, Cheryl and two adopted cats: Bastian and Luna.