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Extreme Cold Can be Deadly for Outside Pets

by on February 08, 2014 3:45 PM

Centre Countians, the deep freeze is not over yet. While my office has a main purpose of protecting people, we are also advocates for animals.

In Pennsylvania, failure to provide adequate shelter for conditions, fresh water, and food can to lead to charges of cruelty to animals — a summary offense that can lead to $300 in fines and up to 90 days in jail.

A second offense is a third-degree misdemeanor. If you see animals that may be at risk after being left out in the cold for prolonged periods of time, or who appear to have inadequate shelter for the temperature, contact local law enforcement.

Dogs get frostbite and hypothermia, too. They are not polar bears. If you have watched the news lately, you should realize police have been out making sure animals are properly taken care of during this extreme cold. If you choose to keep your pet outdoors, you must provide adequate shelter, food, water, and bedding to keep them dry and warm, even when the weather gets brutal.

What worked at 35 degrees no longer works at 10 degrees. If you cannot make their outdoor provisions safe, they need to be brought inside until the danger passes. Dogs may have fur coats, but they are not immune to the cold any more than a person wearing a coat would be if he or she were to sit outside on the wet, frozen ground all day.

Here are guidelines as to what constitutes adequate shelter, but please realize each situation is different and demands good judgment.

  • Never leave puppies, smaller dogs, older dogs or cats outdoors when the temperature falls below 40 degrees. As a general rule, it is best to bring all dogs in when it is below 20 degrees. Pending legislation may make this a reality.
  • If your dog or cat stays outside, be certain that they have a proper shelter raised several inches off the ground with a flap over the entry. (If the entry is open, it is as cold in the box as it is outside.) If it is not raised up, the bottom of the box is as cold as the ground. Keep a fresh blanket, cedar shavings or straw to keep the pet warm. The shelter should be large enough that your pet can sit and stand, but small enough so the pet's body heat will be retained in the house. Consider insulating the roof.
  • Use a plastic water bowl to ensure your pet's tongue does not get stuck to cold metal, and change the water often to keep it from freezing. If the temperature is constantly so cold it stays frozen, you must provide a heated bowl. Lack of fresh water constitutes "cruelty" and can get you cited.
  • Be sure to keep older or arthritic pets inside. Escort older dogs outside for toileting.
  • Be alert for signs of frostbite and injury on dogs' ears, paws, and tails. If you suspect frostbite, contact your veterinarian. Always be alert for signs of hypothermia such as shivering, lethargy, low heart rate, and unresponsiveness.

Finally, dogs are highly social creatures. Consider spending more time with your outdoor pet or bringing it indoors altogether. Your pet is happiest when with you and your family!

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Parks Miller has served as Centre County District Attorney since January 4, 2010. She has prosecuted a wide variety of criminal cases including Homicide, Sex Crimes, Assault and Drug cases.
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