Not fit for man nor beast

Experts warn of dangers for animals left out in the cold

ALMOST HOME ANIMAL Shelter employee Naomi Conery, left, holds a young calico stray as Diane Luczak, shelter manager, looks over her frostbitten ears. The thin female cat was found near Breen Avenue and Campbell Street in Kingsford. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — This prolonged stretch of subzero temperatures, now set to extend into a second week, definitely has its share of risks for people.

But the stakes could be higher for the four-footed members of the household or farm, especially if their human caretakers get careless.

Most domestic animals — be they dog, cat or horse — are not suited to deal with these arctic conditions without help, several area experts advised.

Dr. Heather Bissen of Niagara Animal Hospital remembers a kitten brought in two years ago, stiff and near death after being found in a snowbank as temperatures sank to double-digits below zero.

Several months of care managed to save that one, now happily in a pet home. But it points up that prolonged exposure to such cold can be lethal or lead to serious injury.

Dr. Brian Scott, a veterinarian at Iron Mountain Animal Hospital since 2004, agreed.

“It’s very dangerous, this type of weather,” Scott said. “I think there’s probably some cats out there that don’t make it through this.”

Yes, some dogs do have coats capable of withstanding even severe cold — the husky-type breeds, for example, or the Japanese akita. Among felines, the Maine coon cat comes to mind.

But even those pets that might initially frisk in such conditions shouldn’t be left out for long periods with nothing more than fur against the elements, Scott advised.

He recommends no longer than 30 minutes for the more hardy types with thick coats. Those of small size or scant hair should be back inside within 10 minutes, he said. Outfitting them with coat and boots can help, but keep in mind, “If it’s too cold for you,” Scott said, “it’s too cold for the dogs.”

Cats have no real reason to be outside at all, both vets said.

The Iron Mountain clinic has yet to see a case of exposure or frostbite from this cold snap, but Scott said that usually comes later, when pet owners begin noticing hair loss or lesions on ear edges and paw pads.

Three cats came in Thursday to the Almost Home Animal Shelter in Quinnesec, all picked up as strays. One is a thin calico that likely has frostbite to its ears and perhaps tail and toes, shelter manager Diane Luczak said.

No cats, even ones that usually wander outdoors, should be expected to endure this extreme cold, she said. Some type of shelter, food and water source should be provided and easily accessible.

“There’s that mentality that the cat can be outside and fend for itself,” Luczak said. “But nothing domestic should be outside.”

They received three dogs as well: a yellow Lab picked up while standing in the middle of a road, a Chihuahua type and a dachshund mix that, like the calico cat, is too thin, she said.

While the Chihuahua was quickly claimed, the others remain at the shelter. If no one shows up for them within five days, they’ll be offered for adoption when ready.

When animals must spend some time outside in such bitter cold, the group advised:

– Watch for lethargy, limping or other signs the cold might be having an effect. Do not hesitate to get the animal into warmth if it appears to be in distress.

– Take special care if the pet is older, blind, deaf or otherwise impaired, as they have less ability to get back home if they wander off and get disoriented. Best to use a leash.

– If a pet does become overly chilled, try running a towel in a dryer to provide a warm wrap.

– More energy is burned staying warm, so food should be higher in calories and nutrition.

– Water is essential to maintain body heat, so check even heated water dishes and troughs several times a day to make sure they haven’t frozen over.

– Any animal normally housed outside needs to have a shelter or box that is dry and provides a barrier from wind and snow. It should have bedding that is dry, deep and, ideally, can be burrowed into.

– Use pet-friendly ice melters rather than salt, to avoid irritating paw pads or pets ingesting salt and potentially harmful chemicals when grooming;

– Be careful of antifreeze pools or spills — dogs and cats like the taste but it can cause fatal kidney damage if not treated immediately. “Dogs love it. So do kids, because it looks like Kool-aid and tastes sweet,” Scott warned.

– Bang or rap on the hood and tire wells on vehicles before starting, to hopefully drive out any animal that might have crawled in for warmth or shelter.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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