Protect your best friend

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Keep pets warm, safe as temps drop

By Greg Summers

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for several surrounding counties this weekend, but as of Thursday morning, Lancaster wasn’t one of them.

Still, with the county poised along a transition line and low temperatures forecast in the upper 20s tonight and high temperatures in the lower 30s on Saturday, there’s really no way of knowing what to expect.

“I think, considering where we are, that’s a pretty accurate assessment,” said Darren Player, assistant fire coordinator for Lancaster County Emergency Management.

As always, any slight temperature and humidity fluctuations, along with the track the winter storm takes, will determine if Lancaster gets snow, sleet, frozen rain or rain.

“Trying to predict what will happen here is almost like breaking open a fortune cookie,” Player said. “We don’t know what will or won’t happen until the storm gets closer to us. One temperature degree either way can make a whole lot of difference.”  

Regardless of what happens on a weather map in the next 24 hours, it’s important to make sure to take a few extra steps to ensure that outdoor pets are ready for it, too.

According to the U.S. Humane Society, many pet owners have a false impression that an animal with a furry coat is not susceptible to the dangers associated with cold weather.

That is a common misconception, said Jennifer Thomas, a veterinarian assistant at Faulkner Animal Hospital.

“They (pet owners) seem to think of fur as an added layer of insulation, even though it’s not,” Thomas said.

Thomas said it’s important to make sure that outdoor pets are protected during winter storms.

You can keep your pets safe and warm from winter weather with the following tips:

– Keep them dry – Make sure your pet has a warm, dry place to escape the elements.

– Check the bedding – If you have a doghouse with bedding, it will need to be changed periodically. Straw can become moldy, creating skin and respiratory problems. Dirty and wet blankets exposed to the elements can make a dog very uncomfortable and lead to illness. A layer of cedar shavings in a doghouse can provide added protection to retain your pet’s body heat.

– Be sure there is a source of fresh water – Snow and ice are not substitutes for water. Water dishes need to be checked more often in winter storms.

“All the water in the world won’t do any good if it’s frozen solid,” said Morris Russell, coordinator for Lancaster County Emergency Management. “And I’m saying that as a pet owner. You have to make sure your pets have access to fresh water, especially if you keep them in a kennel.” 

– Provide additional food – Dogs burn more calories in winter to keep their body temperature regulated, so feed them a little more. However, it’s a good idea to feed them smaller portions more often throughout the day.

– Make sure your pet stays dry and free of snow – If possible, bring them indoors or let them stay on an enclosed back porch out of the elements. Kennels with solid concrete floors need to be free of ice and snow.

“For a dog in a solid surface kennel, it can be like trying to walk around on an ice skating rink,” Russell said. “And they don’t have any way to break it up. As responsible pet owners, we have to make sure we do the right things to protect them, too.”

– Don’t use electrical cords – It is not a good idea to provide heat to an outside doghouse with heating pads or space heaters that have electrical cords. An animal that chews on them may get a harmful jolt, burns, abnormal heartbeat and could even die.

– Don’t use ice-melting chemicals – Many of these products contain ingredients such as calcium chloride and sodium chloride (table salt) that can irritate animal paws or skin. Pets may also accidentally ingest ice melt from their paws or from the ground. Depending on the amount ingested, ice melts can potentially produce a variety of effects, such as drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and, in severe cases, cardiac abnormalities, seizures, coma and even death.  

– Make some noise – Cats have a habit of curling up under car hoods or on car engines to keep warm. If you know you have cats in your neighborhood, it is always a good idea to check under the hood before starting the engine. Just bang the hood of the car to check before driving away.