Make sure pets are protected from extreme cold, too

The next few days are expected to be brutally cold, with highs stalling out in the single digits and painfully subzero overnight lows.

For most humans, that means getting closer to the fire, perhaps grabbing a warm beverage, wrapping up in an afghan or adding another blanket on the bed. And we have the option to spend as little time outdoors as possible.

But while tending to our own creature comforts, don’t forget about the animals in your care.

When temperatures plummet, pets should not be left outside for any length of time, the Michigan Humane Society advised. When polar conditions set in, they recommend:

— Small or short-haired pets should be brought indoors when temperatures reach 15 to 20 degrees. Larger breeds and thick-coated dogs can remain outside, with adequate shelter, to a temperature of zero, the society stated, adding precipitation and wind chill should be taken into account.

— Cats should be kept indoors or at least brought into a warm, animal-proofed garage.

— Roaming cats often seek the warmth of automobile engines on frigid nights, so knock on the hood or honk the horn before starting your car to startle them and give them a chance to escape.

— Increase the amount of food by 10 to 20 percent for dogs left outside during the winter months. Animals need the extra calories to help animals stay warm.

— Access to clean, unfrozen water also is critical. Check drinking water frequently — every few hours — to ensure it is unfrozen.

— If an animal is cold to the touch or has pale paws and ears, it might have frostbite. Move the animal to a warmer area and immediately contact a veterinarian.

MHS strongly urges that pet owners allow their animals to live inside, especially during extreme weather. However, if people leave their pets outdoors for any length of time, they are required by Michigan state law to provide adequate food, water and shelter.

Adequate shelter for dogs, as defined by state law, means a well-built, insulated, slant-roofed dog house. The interior should be just large enough for the dog to stand and to lie down comfortably. It should be slightly elevated from the ground for air circulation. The door should face away from prevailing winds and have a protective flap to eliminate drafts.

Clean, dry straw should be provided for bedding rather than towels, rugs or blankets, which can absorb moisture and freeze in colder temperatures.

“Every winter, our cruelty investigators respond to hundreds of complaints about pets that are left outdoors without adequate shelter,” said Mark Ramos, MHS senior cruelty investigator.

Several types of inadequate shelter frequently seen include unheated garages or sheds, a dog house that is too large or lacks straw, or dogs simply tied out to a porch, fence or deck with no shelter at all.

To report pets left outside without proper shelter, contact local law enforcement or animal control.

Failing to provide proper provisions for pets can result in misdemeanor animal cruelty violations carrying a sentence of up to 93 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine and loss of pet ownership for a specified amount of time, according to MHS.

But a law shouldn’t be needed for people to live up to their basic responsibilities as pet owners. And no jail time or fine can truly atone for a pet injured or worse due to negligence or indifference when the weather turns dangerously cold.

So make sure if you’re warm and comfortable as the temperatures plunge, so are any animals in your care.