Taking care of furry friends in frigid cold, snow

MADISON, Wis. — You’ve heard a lot of warnings this week to avoid driving or going outside at all due to the frigid temperatures — but try telling that to an excited Golden Retriever or an outdoor cat.

“If your little purse chihuahua’s feet hardly ever touch the ground, bitter cold like this is pretty dangerous,” said veterinarian Chris Pagel, owner of Companion Animal Hospital in Madison.

We humans grumble to each other about how cold it is all the time, but all you’ll hear from your furry friend is a happy “woof!” So, it’s up to us to see the signs that puppy playtime is over.

“They’ll start prancing or dancing or just lifting their feet up because they’re cold,” Dr. Pagel said. And dogs can get hurt slipping on ice, too.

“We’ve seen some hurt ankles, hurt knees, couple of torn nails,” he said. “When the dog is not used to the slipperiness of the ice then they slip and tear a nail or they injure a ligament or a tendon.”

Booties are one way to keep them from slipping or freezing the skin under their feet.

“Make sure you have your phone to video when they first put booties on it’s pretty hilarious,” Dr. Pagel said.

But to play it safe, animal experts recommend about five minutes at a time outside in extreme cold and snow.

“Especially some of the arctic breeds where dogs really, really like the snow might not pay as much attention to, they’re running around burning calories they can get pretty cold, they can get overly cold before they even realize it,” Dr. Pagel said.

To tire out your furball of energy inside, the Dane County Humane Society says to play with a puzzle toy to stimulate them or build your own.

“You can go ahead and take a box, fill it with newspaper and treats, and then wrap it up and let them tear at it and have fun,” said Lisa Bernard, the humane society’s public relations coordinator. “You can take a towel and in between the folds, you’ll put treats and let them search through the towel and see what treats they find as they’re unfolding different areas.”

For some breeds, the threat doesn’t end outside.

“Draft is really, really critical,” Dr. Pagel said. “If you’ve got a drafty part of the house try and block the draft. Especially the smaller the animal, the more critically dangerous that drafts and cold can be, they cool off really quickly”

According to Bernard, if you see a lost dog or cat, take it inside and keep them for 48 hours before calling the shelter or Department of Animal Services, “because if their family is in the neighborhood, they’re going to be looking for them and it’s just so easy for them to locate them there.”

If you’re used to feeding stray cats outside, Dr. Pagel says a little extra can go a long way.

“Their surface area to body mass is going to burn a lot more calories just trying to stay warm,” he said.

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