When you throw an extra log on the fire, don't forget about your pet.
We're facing single-digit temperatures, and the wind chill only makes it worse.
In winter, many dog owners and pet owners in general don't realize that their pets are not equipped to handle the severe cold weather.
Veterinarians and animal control officers have even heard of cases where family pets freeze to death in the winter.
When temperatures hit the single digits, pets face serious risk.
Every winter, careless or thoughtless owners leave their pets - most often dogs - to fend for themselves during bitter cold weather, sometimes thinking that thick fur will provide proper insulation.
Actually, cats and dogs can be just as susceptible to cold weather as small children.
While some larger breeds can endure some cold, animals reach a point when they simply cannot keep themselves warm.
While it really depends on the dog, each animal has its own threshold, according to experts at the Humane Society of the United States.
Generally, older animals and smaller pets suffer the most, they say.
For those pets, the Humane Society recommends sweaters.
However, all pets, not just dogs, are susceptible to cold and should be brought inside during the winter.
Besides the cold, pets left outside face other dangers, ranging from abuse from strangers to possible attack by larger predators to being run over by motor vehicles.
To avoid these problems, experts recommend keeping the dogs inside during cold weather, especially when the owner notices obvious signs of discomfort, such a shivering.
Pet owners should use common sense, however. Some pet owners go to the extreme and bring furry dogs indoors.
If it's 70 degrees in the house, that dog is way, way too hot.
It would be as if you were forced to wear a fur coat in your living room - in front of a fireplace.
For the cases where the pet owner can not or should not bring the pets in the house, there are alternatives, the Humane Society says.
For dogs with long, thick fur, pet owners should bring their pet's house into the garage for extra protection.
If dogs are left outside during the winter, the owner should provide proper shelter with a flap over the door to block winds and help the pet keep the shelter warm with its own body heat.
Besides being a good idea, proper shelter for pets is required by law in most states.
Laws state that it is the duty of the owner to provide food, water and proper shelter - meaning wind- and moisture-proof. Failure to do so can result in a citation from Animal Control officers.
Extra food is another good idea for pets in winter because they burn more calories to stay warm. Also, a teaspoon of vegetable oil mixed with pet food will keep the animal's coat moisturized.
Animal experts offer the following tips for adequate dog houses and other cold-weather issues:
- Use hard plastic or painted wood for the dog house. Metal rusts and conducts heat and cold. Make sure it does not leak, and it should face south in the winter and north in the summer.
- Raise the house off the ground several inches.
- Put a flap over the door. An old rug or a rubber mat with strips cut vertically works fine for this purpose.
- The roof should extend eight inches over the door to keep out the rain, and freezing drizzle.
- Use straw, shredded newspaper or cedar shavings for bedding. Nail a strip of wood at the bottom of the dog house door to keep the bedding from spilling out. Do not use rugs or rags. They absorb water and can freeze.
- Put water in a sturdy, tip-resistant bucket. Check for freezing several times a day during the winter. Put food and water bowls at the end of the chain and inside a rubber tire to prevent tipping.
- Serve lukewarm water. Cold water keeps body temperatures low.
- Puppies, elderly dogs and small and short-haired breeds like pointers and Dobermans should never be left outside during periods of cold weather.
- Visit the vet for regular checkups. Dogs must be wormed regularly. A dog with worms can lose vital body fat during the winter.
- After walks, wipe a pet's paws to clean off street salt, which can burn, and ice, which can cause frostbite.
- Remember that if your pet is in the garage, discarded antifreeze can be fatal.
Be kind to your pets.