Yesterday, November 19th, marked the first snow of the ’16-’17 winter season. The wind had torn two tarps off of a train of parked shopping carts at a local store. Snow had quickly begun falling as if someone flipped a light switch, rapidly speeding toward the earth as it pelted me in the face like tiny frigid needles. Yes, welcome to the north coast. Fortunately, any disdain for such inclement conditions is easily remedied. I simply went inside and had lunch. Problem solved, at least until I had to go back outside, but such is life in Northeast Ohio.
While none of us can control the weather, we can control where we go. Unfortunately, this is not the case for animals. I remember years ago, meteorologist and pet lover Dick Goddard had told viewers not to be fooled by the fact an animal such as a cat or a dog has a fur coat. This is not a bulletproof vest from the elements. To disagree with that is foolhardy and ultimately cruel. Wolves and lynx can handle it. Our dogs and cats are not wolves nor lynx. So, with that in mind, it is important that we all follow the following steps to care for our animal companions that rely on us to feed them and keep them warm during the oncoming tundra-like conditions that Greater Cleveland is no stranger to.
#1 Bring Your Pets Indoors
I would refer you to the earlier mention of a cat or a dog’s fur coat. It is not a bubble that protects them from the cold. Would you sleep outside with a jacket when the temperatures drop to the 30’s or lower? Of course not. Bottom line, if you think it’s too cold for you, then it’s too cold for your pets. Unless the dog house has a door that shuts with fully functioning heat like your house does, bring them in. The same goes for folks who have cats that like to spend time outside. Bring them in at night so as to avoid any type of frostbite or other injury.
#2 Salt on the Driveway
The website PetPlace.com recently published an article pointing out the dangers of walking your dog on salted surfaces in the winter. Dogs often lick their paws after a walk. Should they ingest any of the salt they walked on, it can cause oral and internal irritation. It is important to note that it is not simply plain sodium that is getting thrown down on streets and sidewalks. It is an ice-melting agent combined with a sodium element. You wouldn’t put it on your fries, so don’t let your dog taste it either. In short, walk your dog in areas free of the ice-melting chemicals if you can. Even if this is not possible in your area, ALWAYS wipe your dog’s paws after the walk.
#3 Strays Have Feelings Too
If time and money allows, leave out a small structure for strays so they are protected from those biting Ohio winds. Taking a Rubbermaid container and placing it on its side is a great start. Tape the lid to the side facing the upward and now you’ve got an awning over the opening. A few dishes with some food and water will go a long way for a feral cat with an empty belly. Plus they may keep any rodent problem down by hanging around your home. They may be fed, but they still have an instinct to hunt. Another, slightly more elaborate option is to take a Rubbermaid container or styrofoam cooler (or any large plastic container) and cutting an entry hole in it for a cat. Make sure the lid is secured and throw some hay in there so that animal has a warm place to rest.
#4 Hold the Turkey
Okay, so maybe this last tip doesn’t have to do with the weather, but as Thanksgiving is right around the corner, this one is worth mentioning. Turkey skin is toxic to dogs. Let me type that again. Turkey skin is toxic to dogs. I know some will read that and say, “Oh I’ve been giving that to my dogs for years and they’re fine.” Hey I sped down I-480 last week and didn’t get caught. That doesn’t make it okay. Every Thanksgiving season, veterinary clinics get flooded with calls that the family dog is acting lethargic, vomiting or worse. There is absolutely no sense in rolling the dice on this one, folks. Your dog will still love you if you don’t give them turkey ever again.
So those are four simple yet vital tips to take to heart when caring for our pets and kindred stray spirits that roam our neighborhoods in the outside cold. Sadly, every winter some unfortunate stories make the news of animals who did not make it through freezing temperatures or the perils of the outdoors. Let’s do our best to follow the aforementioned steps and make our four-legged friends as comfortable as possible in these coming months.