Cold Weather Tips for Companion Animals
Simple things to consider when keeping your animals safe as the temperatures drop
- It’s a common misconception that dogs and cats won’t get cold because of their fur. If you are cold, then your companion animal is cold. Most domestic animals are not well-equipped for cold weather and can easily be susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.
- Dogs can be particularly vulnerable. Toy breeds and shorthaired dogs do not conserve body heat well and can quickly succumb to hypothermia. Breeds with short hair or fine coats are often victims of frostbite. Elderly dogs and puppies often cannot adequately control body temperatures. Arthritic dogs are much more susceptible in cold weather. The most susceptible areas of the body to frostbite are the tips of ears, scrotum
and the tail.
- Be on the lookout for signs of hypothermia in animals, which include uncontrollable shivering followed by abrupt stillness, decreased heartbeat and weak pulse, stiff muscles, lack of coordination, and pale or blue gums.
Each year, Animal Protection of New Mexico receives on its hotlines countless reports of animals who have frozen to death because they’re left outside in freezing temperatures without adequate shelter. This is unacceptable!
Winterize Your Animal's Shelter and Environment
A shelter should be tall enough for a dog or cat to sit upright and large enough to be able to turn around. Any smaller enclosure will cramp them. Any larger will prevent them from retaining body heat. If the shelter is not conventionally insulated or does not have a heater, straw makes an excellent and inexpensive insulated bedding. It retains heat and evaporates moisture (Do not use hay as it does not have the same insulating value that straw does). Do not use fabric blankets or bedding. Once wet, it will ice over when the temperature drops at night, becoming wet again with your animal’s body heat. Check the straw periodically for cleanliness and moisture, and replace with fresh straw as needed.
Another tip is to orient the shelter’s entrance to face south-to-southeast, to help protect the interior from wind, rain and snow, and maximize solar gain. If the opening is uncovered, consider attaching a thick piece of rubber, doormat, or carpet scrap cut to size to block the wind, rain and snow. Make sure the shelter is as airtight as possible. Consider using caulking and/or sealants on the outside. The shelter should be elevated a few inches off the ground so it doesn’t become waterlogged from rain and snow that accumulate. Inexpensive weatherproof heat mats can also be used. They provide gentle warmth and come with chew-proof electric cords.
Bernalillo County / City of Albuquerque Straw Assistance Program
Because of the generosity of Animal Protection of New Mexico’s membership, donations received during last year’s straw fund drive were sufficient to provide some straw for the animals of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County again this winter. Although we hope all companion animals are welcomed into their families’ homes during cold weather, the straw provides excellent insulation for outdoor doghouses.
Both county and city animal control officers carry a bale of straw in their vehicles to distribute when they see an animal in need. However, the straw is also available to individuals, free of charge. Residents of Albuquerque can call 311 for straw information. Bernalillo residents should call the Bernalillo County Department of Animal Control and Protection at 314-0280.
More Winter Tips
- Check your companion animal’s water bowl frequently for freezing. Consider purchasing a heater, or a plug-in water bowl with a built-in heater. Glass and china dishes will easily crack and break when the water freezes.
- Don’t leave an animal in a closed car in the winter. The unheated car can trap cold and become just as deadly as a hot car in the summer.
- Store anti-freeze in a secure location away from any animal or child’s reach. Even though New Mexico law requires bitter antifreeze to be sold in the state, residents could still be using antifreeze without a bittering agent that may be old, or was sold in another state. Animals and children are attracted by the sweet taste of traditional antifreeze, but it is a highly poisonous substance. Be aware if your animal has walked on salted or de-iced surfaces. If they have, they may lick their paws and ingest toxins. Rinse their paws in warm water after walking outside. Do this also if ice balls have formed between their toes and pads from walking in snow.
- Be aware that cats and wildlife left outside will seek out the warmth and protection of a car’s engine. Bang on the hood or honk the horn before starting the engine and
Report Animal Cruelty
If New Mexico citizens observe animals being left outside in cold weather or winter conditions, please contact either the APNM Animal Cruelty Hotline at (505) 265-2322, ext. 29, or the Attorney General’s Animal Cruelty Task Force Hotline at (505) 506-4000.