As temperatures dropped into the teens this week, Dr. Barbara Bytwerk, a veterinarian and the owner of Haven Animal Hospital in Grand Haven, offers some advice for people with pets.
The two biggest things for pet owners to be aware of, according to Bytwerk, are frostbite and the toxicity of salt on the roads. Frostbite can affect any kind of animal that is outdoors too long.
“If the windchill is below zero, (frostbite) happens out in the cold,” she said. “Air passes by the ears and pulls all the blood out.”
This kind of exposure can lead to frostbite quickly in both cats and dogs. Bytwerk advises to not let an animal stay outside for longer than 15 minutes in weather that cold.
For dogs that run around outside, “the salt will be bad for their feet,” Bytwerk said. “Wash their paws off if they have been walking, and get it off their feet.”
The vet said the salt can cause chemical burns to their feet — or the dogs will lick it off, which makes them sick.
Dogs do need to get outdoors to exercise, but Bytwerk said it is better for them to be off leash during this season.
“If they are more active and running around, they will stay warm,” she said. “But if they are on a leash walking, they will be colder.”
Bytwerk also suggests that small or short-hair dogs benefit from wearing a coat.
“Some kind of cover-up is helpful,” she said. “Little dogs get cold and shiver.”
What if your dog lives outside all year?
“My opinion is (pets) should be brought inside in cold weather,” Bytwerk said.
But if they need to stay outside, Bytwerk advises people to build a small shelter to block the cold wind for their animals. “Build it up on a platform with light bulbs,” she said.
Even if an animal has a warm outdoor shelter, Bytwerk said they can easily get dehydrated.
“(Dogs) have to have water,” she said. “Even with a shelter, if their water is frozen, they will get dehydrated.”
Bytwerk suggests heated bowls to keep water from freezing.
Cats also need protection from the elements.
“A lot of people think that cats are impervious to the cold,” Bytwerk said. “But if they can’t get out of the wind and can’t find a warm spot, they’ll freeze.”
Finally, Bytwerk warns about pets getting near lakes and ponds this time of year.
“It is very dangerous — animals go through the ice all the time,” she said. “Keep dogs away from the ice all of the time.”