Winter Time Blues

We are still experiencing very cold winter weather in this area, and driving around town on errands last week, I was saddened by the number of shivering dogs left outside. Responsible pet owners do NOT leave their dogs outside in the cold. Windchill factors make days even colder than actual temperature readings. If you absolutely refuse to let your dog into the house, at least fix up a warm corner in the basement or garage. Fix a bed to provide a barrier from cold floors, and place it away from drafts. Especially useful for older pets and pets with thin coats are the specially made-for-dogs heating pads (with chew resistant cords).

Frozen water is another common problem in this area. It is absolutely essential that pets have fresh water available at all times. Heated waterers are available at reasonable cost and should be provided if there is a danger of freezing. I often hear pet owners say that their dogs eat snow. Responsible pet owners realize that water is necessary for all body functions from walking to sleeping and that snow does not provide adequate water. As a general rule, a normal, healthy pet’s daily water needs are about 2 ½ times the amount of dry food he is given. For example, if your dog eats 2 lbs. of dry food, he should drink 5 pints—almost two-thirds of a gallon – of water. There should always be clean, fresh water available for your pet.

Dogs need regular exercise, but excursions outside in freezing weather need to be brief. Pets are sensitive to the cold—you can’t take your pet’s temperature by touching her nose, but you can see if she is shivering. If she is shivering, she is cold. There are a number of good dog coats and sweaters available. Choose a coat for warmth, not for style—and make sure it is an easy on-easy off garment.

Never let your dog off the leash in snowy, icy weather. Dogs can lose their scent in snow and ice, and can become lost. They may panic in a blizzard and run away. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season.

Tying them outside in any weather for extended periods of time is cruel and inhumane, but in this cold weather, it can be fatal. If you see animal neglect, it is your responsibility to take action. Report an animal in trouble immediately. In this weather, a puppy will die if left out in the elements. We have already received several reports of dogs tied outside shivering. We cannot save all of them, but we can take actions to prevent neglect in our own neighborhoods. I repeat a quote by Rabbi Kenneth Segel: “We must not become so hardened to the plight of animals that we begin to accept it. If we are insensitive to the suffering of animals, we are on the road to becoming cruel and inhumane with people.”

Winter: Keep Your Dogs Cozy and Safe as the Temps Drop!

Winter has definitely arrived, and it is EXTREMELY cold this year in Iowa, with snow already piled high in many places. Even though we enjoy looking at the “Winter Wonderland”, this season of freezing temperatures and numbing wetness poses many dangers for our four footed companions. Please follow some common sense rules to help your pets remain happy and healthy during these cold months.

  • Do NOT leave dogs outdoors when the temperature drops. I receive regular calls regarding dogs tied outside during this cold winter weather. We discourage tethering dogs in any weather, but it is especially dangerous this time of year. Dogs left out in the cold too long can get frostbite and hypothermia just as humans do. Responsible dog caregivers do NOT leave their dogs outside in the cold. While dogs may possess some natural protection against winter weather, Iowa’s variety of bitter elements can jeopardize any pet’s health and safety. Even with temps above freezing, the wind chill can still threaten a pet’s life. If you don’t want a dog in the main part of your house, surely there is a heated area that could be kid-gated where he could spend his day in warm comfort. If he has behavioral problems, the solution is not to banish him to the back yard, but to spend time training him. Dogs are usually willing to comply to house rules IF they understand what the rules are. Remember that good caregivers have good dogs! If you absolutely refuse to let your dog into the house, at least fix up a warm corner on the porch, basement, or garage. Use plenty of blankets to provide a barrier from cold floors, and provide him a warm, cozy “den”. There are many small, safe heaters that can be used to warm his den. (Don’t keep pets in unheated areas!)
  • A little extra food is usually recommended in cold weather, and fresh water is an absolute necessity…ice and snow are NOT acceptable substitutes. Your dog needs clean, fresh water available at all times. He will also appreciate a few extra chew toys and other playthings so he isn’t tempted to turn to the furniture or your shoes out of boredom!
  • Shelters are already getting complaints about Christmas puppies. Puppies do not tolerate the cold well, and we admit that it is difficult to housetrain a puppy during the winter. If you recall, we strongly advised against giving puppies as Christmas gifts, but if you did get one, it is now your responsibility to train him. Your dog may feel it’s more convenient to use the floor or carpet, but you can curb this with a regular outdoor comfort-station schedule in which you GO OUT WITH him first thing in the morning, several times during the day, and last thing at night. You made a commitment (and it isn’t the dog’s fault that the weather is lousy!)
  • If you see an animal shivering out in the cold, don’t just ignore him. Perhaps his caregiver doesn’t even realize the dangers, and ignorance is curable by education. Avoid being belligerent or accusatory, but politely explain the dangers. If the friendly approach is unsuccessful, notify the authorities. It is Iowa law that animals be provided ADEQUATE shelter, fresh water (not ice) and fresh food. When you report to the animal control authorities, it is important that you calmly, coherently give brief, specific facts. Exact address of the dog is needed, and it is best to have written documentation of the problem. The authorities are very busy, so sometimes you need to be persistent. If the situation does not improve, report again…and again…and again. A dog’s life may depend on your intervention.

AS I LAY DYING is an observation shared by Patti Ragsdale which I was asked to repeat.

As I lay dying in a pile of ice and snow, I felt a hand touch my matted coat, and saw an angel looking down at me. As gentle hands stroked my fur, I wondered if I had died, released from the never ending agony of chains, neglect, and loneliness. The human angel gently lifted me from the cold frozen ground, bathed my skinny, dirty, body and treated all the wounds and sores.

Her soft touch, kind word, and warm blanket overshadowed the years of suffering when no one cared.

I am no longer lonely and frightened. I am loved.

Too Cold for Man or Beast

Bitterly cold temperatures, frigid winds, and major snow storms have hit us hard in Iowa. As tough as this weather is on humans, it can be even tougher on our pets. Stephanie Shain of HSUS stresses that if it is too cold for you to be outdoors, it is too cold for your animals. “Just because they have fur coats doesn’t mean that they can endure cold weather. If you are uncomfortable, so are they. NO dog should be kept outside when the temperatures drop below freezing. Animals are vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia in less than an hour of exposure.” It is important to keep our four-footed friends warm and safe, by following a few common sense suggestions.

  • Walks should be brief, and in frigid weather limited to “taking care of outside business.”
  • Dogs should NEVER be left outdoors or in unheated areas.
  • Salt used on icy roads and sidewalks can cause a dog’s pads to become dry, cracked, and painfully sore. Dogs can also get ice stuck between their toes, which can cause significant discomfort and sometimes, frostbite. Cleaning your pet’s paws is imperative when he comes in from a walk outside. Carefully snip the tufts of hair between your dog’s toes, to help prevent ice balls from forming. Add a layer of protection to his footpads before heading out. A thin layer of aloe or petroleum jelly provides a protective layer and are safe, even if your dog licks his feet. The oil helps keep ice and snow from clumping in between the toes.
  • Give your dog a little extra food during cold weather. They need more energy in the winter than they do in the summer.
  • When refilling your car’s radiator, be sure to clean up any spilled antifreeze. Ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that appeals to dogs. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and other household chemicals) out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol. It costs a little more, but is not so toxic to pets and children.
  • If it is necessary to bathe a dog in winter, turn up the heat in your home, keep baths short, dry him quickly, and keep him warm until totally dry.
  • Prevent static electricity and dry skin by operating a humidifier. The forced dry air that heats our homes tends to cause humans to get chapped lips and dry hands, and also causes dogs’ coats to dry out and become itchy. A humidifier is beneficial for the entire household.
  • Use space heaters with caution. These auxiliary heat sources can cause burns or even house fires if bumped over. There are quartz infrared portable heaters with much better safety records than most portable heaters, and they produce safe, clean, economical heat. Do some careful research before you purchase one!
  • Please get involved if you see a neglected animal. Urge people to bring their dogs inside. If you meet with resistance, alert the authorities. Concerned neighbors are often the only hope for these poor animals.


It’s No Happy New Year for Many Dogs

Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

If you drive around your neighborhood, you will see many chained up dogs shivering in the cold. Winter weather means extra hardship for ‘backyard” dogs, and, as responsible pet caregivers, we acknowledge that it is inhumane treatment, but we seem to just look the other way and are silent. These dogs suffer from frostbite, exposure, and dehydration, and often have nowhere to go to escape the cold and snow. Why do so many dogs end up at the end of a chain? There are many excuses. Animals are still considered property in the eyes of the law, and some caregivers view their dogs as “possessions” to do with as they please. Others just shrug and say that people have always kept dogs that way. Some simply don’t want the animal in the house and resort to a chain to prevent him from running away. Most have tired of the responsibility of adequately caring for a dog or are not willing to deal with a behavior problem, and have simply relegated him to the outdoors—tied or penned up. There are thousands of chained dogs in this country who exist with deprivation and loneliness. Let’s begin the New Year by breaking our silence about all the chained and penned up dogs. Lori Oswald tells this true story of a backyard dog.

Donovan was not a special dog. He never pulled a child from in front of an oncoming car; he didn’t win a ribbon in a dog show; he was quite an ordinary dog. His owners could be considered quite ordinary too…a nice family with two children, who decided fourteen years earlier to get a dog. A dog would be fun. So one day, perhaps at a shopping center giveaway, or maybe from the pet section of the local ads, they found Donovan, and brought him home. At first the kids were excited, but the newness soon wore off. Dad build a small house and they staked him outside with a chain attached to it, agreeing that he would be “just fine” outside. I never met Donovan. Although I regularly visited his house, I never even knew he existed. He lived 24/7 on a six foot chain, digging holes for entertainment, watching as life passed him by. Mom assured everyone that he was “well cared for.” For 14 years Donovan lived out back on his chain, hungering for a little attention and affection. One day he finally escaped his little world on a chain and holes and dog house—he died. Donovan, unfortunately, is not a fictional character. Neither are his owners. They have been looking around for another dog. “We sure miss Donovan,” they lament.

How many Donovans are in your neighborhood? It’s no Happy New Year for dogs on chains, and it is up to us to break our silence and say “NO! It is not okay to allow dogs to be tethered for extended periods of time.” A dog is a pack animal and needs to be treated as part of the family.


Winter’s Icy Grip Affects Our Pets Too

We are definitely in winter’s frigid grip….with record breaking low temperatures, blizzards, and wild weather, meaning shoveling, snowblowing, dealing with bad roads, and sometimes unbearable cold. Eugene O’Neill describes the way most of us feel right now: “Blow, blow, thou winter wind, away, away from here…I do not love thy snow and sleet or icy flows. I am cold, no matter how I warm or clothe me.” Our companion animals do not appreciate this inclement weather either, and caregivers are responsible to keep them safe and healthy.

These below zero temps may be even worse than what the thermometer reads. The wind chill factor can drop the actual temperature by 20 or 30 degrees, so even if your dogs are used to being outside, they need to be brought inside in extreme cold snaps.

Nothing is more fun that cavorting in the snow with your dog, and regular exercise is important when you are both housebound much of the time, but take care to limit the time outdoors. Wipe snow and ice off your dog’s fee…even clean between the toes…after outdoor walks, and be sure to clean lime rock salt or calcium chloride salt off their paws, both of which can cause digestive problems if the dog licks it.

Your dog is smaller and thus more vulnerable to the chills you feel, so just a short exposure to sub-zero temperatures can produce frostbite of the feet, nose, or ears. Frost-bitten skin is usually red or gray and may peel off. It should be treated by applying warm, most washcloths to thaw the affected areas slowly, and if serious, a veterinarian should be contacted for further care. Prolonged exposure to cold weather, especially accompanied by high winds (the wind chill factor) can lower the body temperature. This condition, known as hypothermia, can interfere with normal bodily functions and result in injury or death.

The ASPCA offers these tips to keep your pet safe in cold weather:

  • Pets should NEVER be left outdoors for extended periods of time when it is extremely cold. IF IT IS TOO COLD FOR YOU, IT IS TOO COLD FOR YOUR DOG!
  • Never let your dog off-leash in the snow or ice. He can become disoriented and lost, even in a familiar area.
  • Massaging petroleum jelly into paw pads before going outside helps to protect them from the salt and chemical agents, but always take a minute to wipe your dog’s legs and stomach as well as his paws when he comes in from a walk. He might ingest salt or chemicals when grooming himself.
  • Never shave a dog down short during the winter. A longer coat offers warmth. Clothing for dogs has become a fashionable fad, but a high fashion garment is not necessary. Look for a simply styled, easy-on, easy-off coat that covers the underside of the dog as well as the back.
  • Animals like the sweet smell and taste of ethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze, but drinking even a small amount can cause fatal kidney damage. Stay safe, by stowing containers up away from your pet’s reach, and discard bottles that are cracked or leaking. Clean spills thoroughly , and if you think your dog has ingested dangerous chemicals, get him to the vet immediately.
  • All pets need a cozy dog bed with a warm blanket or pillow, and older pets may need a little extra attention in cold weather. Whether it is another orthopedic bed, or a ramp over the frozen steps, small acts of kindness can help your older friend feel fine this winter, and don’t ignore small changes in behavior that might signal a medical problem.
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in a car. If the engine is left on, carbon monoxide may endanger his life, and if the engine is off, the temperature in the car will get too cold.
  • If you see or hear of an animal in distress, please contact your local humane society or law enforcement right away. You may mean the difference between life and death for her.

If you keep these precautions in mind, winter can be a fun, healthy time for both you and your dog!


Old Man Winter is on the Prowl

“Old man winter is on the prowl….every time I open my door, sleet, snow, and wind rush in. I crawl under the cover and hide my head….like Rip Van Winkle, I want to hibernate and stay in bed. Even the dogs curl up in their blankets to stay as warm as toast. Furnaces running, water pipes freezing, and big gas bills, too. Old Man Winter has my nose; I’m cold from the top of my head, down to my toes. The dogs and I are going to bed to wait for the weather report for tomorrow, hoping that winter will soon be a thing of the past.” (Author Unknown)

It is quite probable that winter will continue to hold us within her icy grip for quite a while yet, and pet caregivers are encouraged to take precautions to keep their animals safe and healthy. As temperatures drop, the last place a dog should be is outside in the bitter cold. Yet, as we look around our neighborhoods, we see them: dogs tethered with restricted movement, living in overturned barrels, and plywood boards propped up against a wall, all inadequate. Sadly this is where millions of dogs live—all day, every day. When it rains, they’re out there…when it’s zero degrees with howling winds blowing fiercely, they’re out there. When a big snow comes, and their humans are cozy inside, these dogs are still out there, shivering. Keep an eye out for dogs suffering in the cold….some caregivers don’t seem to realize the dangers their dog is facing, and ignorance is curable by education….perhaps a friendly chat will encourage the shivering dog’s caregiver to make some adjustments. However, if the friendly approach does not work, notify the authorities. It is the law that animals be provided ADEQUATE shelter, fresh water (not ice!) and fresh food. Document the situation, giving specific details. Avoid being belligerent or accusatory, but be persistent. A dog’s life may depend on your intervention. If the situation does not improve, report again…and again…and again.

Responsible pet caregivers realize that winter is a time of potential hazards for their companion animals. Here are a few suggestions to help you keep your pet safe and healthy this winter:

  • Dogs are social animals who crave human companionship, and the very best place for your dog in winter (actually anytime!) is in your house. If you simply do not want her in the main part of the home, make a cozy bed in the laundry room or hall where she can be kept warm, dry and away from drafts. Bored dogs can wreak havoc, so it is important to find ways to provide her with both mental and physical exercise, with regular short trips outdoors for business.
  • Winter is the time of year when house fires are more likely to occur. Monitor wood stoves, space heaters, and other heating sources to protect pets from being burned. Make sure your smoke detectors have active batteries, and include your pets when you develop a house fire evacuation plan.
  • Place Fire Stickers on your doors and windows, You can buy commercial stickers (like these:, or make your own: Just write “ATTENTION—PETS INSIDE”….you may also want to indicate the number and type of pets, such as “2 cats and 1 dog.”
  • Antifreeze and coolant are lethal to dogs. Remember to clean up and spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
  • Always keep your dog on a leash. During a snowstorm, dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost…(Be sure to keep your dog’s ID tags updated, just in case)
  • Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your dog’s feet. Wipe the feet with a damp towel before he licks them and risks irritation to his mouth. And consider buying pet safe salt melt to protect sensitive pads.
  • During the winter, many outdoor cats sleep under the hoods of cars for warmth and protection. Tap on the hood of your care before starting up the engine, to avoid any injury when the motor starts.

Just like any other season, winter brings challenges to your dog, but with your common sense, patience, and a little creativity, your four-legged friend can enjoy the winter, safely and happily. As Percy Bysshe Shelley said, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind!”

Too Many Dogs Left Out In the Cold

Temperatures have plummeted in many parts of the country, affecting all of us, and despite having fur coats, dogs are no more resistant to the cold than humans are. Even though we wear multiple layers, we still get cold, and so do our dogs. While some breeds can handle colder temperatures longer than others, the truth is that no dog should stay outside for extended periods during extreme cold. We discourage caregivers from keeping dogs outside all the time during any weather, but the risk is certainly worse when the temperatures drop below the freezing mark…and actual temperature is not the only factor to consider: wind chill can make conditions even more dangerous .. it is inhumane to leave dogs out in this weather.

If for some reason, it is not possible to keep your dog in the main part of your home, surely there is a heated porch, an entryway, even a corner in the garage that could be transformed into a warm, cozy retreat. Caring for a companion animal includes providing a warm, comfortable hideaway from inclement weather. If he has behavioral problems, the solution is not to banish him to the back yard, but to spend the time needed to train him. Good manners don’t just happen; it is the humans’ responsibility to help him learn good behavior and house manners. Dogs are eager to comply to house rules IF they understand what the rules are.

The VERY BEST place for your dog is inside your house: outdoors they can freeze, become lost or stolen, or be injured. Here are few tips to keep your pets safe during cold weather:

  • Clip the fur between the toe pads to reduce the amount of snow that collects between her toes, and to help protect sensitive paws, try coating them with a bit of aloe or petroleum jelly.
  • Dogs were not meant to wear clothes for “dress up”, but jackets , and sweaters can help keep your dog warm, IF you are selective in your choice. Most of them, are ill-fitting and leave the dog’s underside exposed, and are basically worthless. An excellent choice is the Thundershirt/sweater….a little pricey, but well worth the cost….check them out at Another excellent choice is Fido Fleece dog coats, available from various venders on the internet..
  • Be aware of your pet’s tolerance, and shorten your walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Upon returning home, wipe snow and ice off your dog’s feet, to remove any salt, antifreeze or other harmful chemicals that she could ingest by licking her paws. (Many de-icing and ice-melting products are toxic.)
  • Do not let dogs off leash in snow or ice. Canines can easily lose their scent in cold weather, and can also panic in snow storms and run away. (Be sure your dog always wears proper identification…just in case.)
  • Be prepared in case of a blizzard or power outage, by assembling a disaster/emergency kit , and include your dog in your plans. Have enough food, water, and any medications on hand to get through at least 5 days.
  • It doesn’t take long for companion animals to suffer and fall victim to severe winter weather. Frostbite occurs when the fluids in tissues freeze, frequently on the tips of the ears, paws or pads, belly and flanks. Hypothermia, which can lead to death, occurs when the animal’s body temperature drops significantly below normal, causing the body systems to shut down. If you see a dog shivering out in the cold, his very life may be at risk. He needs an advocate! Perhaps just quietly explaining the dangers to the pet’s owner may remedy a miserable existence for the animal, but if that fails, report it to law enforcement. You may be a freezing dog’s only hope for survival.