Pet safety tips for the winter months
Extreme weather challenges much of what we do, and caring for pets is no exception. Here are tips for pet care in the colder winter months, compiled by Martha's Vineyard Emergency Management directors and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Association.
*Do not leave your pet outdoors when temperatures drop below freezing. Dogs need outdoor exercise, but take care not to leave them outdoors for lengthy periods of time during very cold weather. Pets that are mostly indoors need time to adapt to cold temperatures by building up a thicker coat and toughening their footpads for ice and snow. Short-haired dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater during long walks. Dogs and cats are safer indoors during all sorts of extreme weather.
*Care of your pet's feet: If your pet walks on salted or chemically treated areas, be sure to wash its paws after your walk. Gently rub the bottom of the feet to remove these irritants as soon as your dog is off the road. If your dog frequently lifts up its paws, whines, or stops during walks, it may be demonstrating that its feet are uncomfortably cold.
*Wind chill is a threat to pets, even those protected by shelters. Outdoor dogs must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to both sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to retain body heat. The floor should be elevated a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The entrance of the doghouse should be turned to face away from prevailing winds, and the entrance should be covered with a flap of heavy waterproof fabric or heavy plastic.
*Pets that spend a greater amount of time outdoors in the winter need more food. Maintaining warmth depletes energy. Routinely check your pet's water dish to ensure the water is fresh and not frozen. To prevent your pet's tongue from freezing to its feeding or drinking bowl, plastic bowls, rather than metal, are preferred.
*Never leave a pet locked inside a car during extremely cold weather. Cars can actually act like a refrigerator, holding in cold air, putting your pet at risk.
Be leery of frozen bodies of water. Always keep your pets on leashes when walking them near suspected frozen bodies of water. The ice may not be sturdy enough to support your pet. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue your pet yourself; call 911 or go for help.
*Antifreeze and de-icing chemicals can be extremely toxic when ingested by pets. Many types of antifreeze have a sweet taste that can attract animals. Always store antifreeze with tops securely tightened out of reach, and clean up even the smallest spills immediately. Call your veterinarian immediately if your pet has ingested antifreeze.
If you are alerted to a winter storm watch or warning, you should have these supplies on hand:
· Food: keep at least three days of food in an airtight waterproof container.
· Water: Store at least three days of water specifically for your pets, in addition to the water you need for yourself and your family.
· Medicines and medical records: Keep an extra supply of medicines your pet takes on a regular basis in a waterproof container. Have written instructions for all medications your pet takes. Have your pet's vaccinations and medical records up to date.
· Your pet should have a collar (or harness) with rabies tag and identification, with the pet's name, your name, and phone information. Microchipping your pet is recommended, should you have to evacuate with your pet.
· Crate or pet carrier: If you need to evacuate in an emergency situation, take your pets with you. You will be able to take your pet to an emergency shelter; pets will be housed in a separate area or facility than people. You will be responsible for your pet in the shelter. The exception is that service animals may be housed in the same shelter as their owners.
· A picture of you and your pet together: If you become separated from your pet during an emergency, this will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you in reunification with your pet.
· Dogs, cats, birds, and other small pet animals: Should you need to evacuate to a shelter, you will need to bring all food and supplies your pet will need.