The worst of the cold is over in Wisconsin — for now. But that doesn't mean winter won't still pose problems, particularly for our pets.
So, how can we make sure Fido and friends are protected in the cold weather?
- Your pet will tell you when it's too cold outside.
Executive director of the Wisconsin Humane Society Anne Reed says the real danger in extreme cold like Wisconsin just experienced is the same for both people and pets: frostbite.
Reed says it's OK to keep your dog indoors during such cold as much as possible, and limit outdoor exposure to only what's necessary. Try a few very short walks instead of a long walk. Cats should not be outdoors in such extreme temperatures.
But even normal cold temperatures can be uncomfortable for pets. Reed says watch your dog for signals to let you know it's time to go inside from a walk. Paw pads are especially susceptible to the cold, so watch for behaviors like keeping one or more paws off the ground "like a dance" to avoid the cold ground. Some pets will even refuse to go out.
Not every dog will need it, but dog coats are also great for protecting your dog from the cold. Reed also says paw pads are particularly susceptible to the cold, so try boots if your dog will wear them.
"This winter is my first winter for a dog coat and my dog now, if I'm ready to go out without it, he'll look at me, then look at the coat," she says. "He wants that coat."
- Ward off cabin fever with new activities.
If the weather is too bad to take your pet out for more than a few minutes at a time, your dog might start going stir-crazy. Help Fido burn off some of that energy by doing indoor activities, like chasing a ball or playing fetch. Running your dog (safely) around indoor spaces, such as hallways or stairways, also helps.
Reed says there are also plenty of brain-stimulating activities you can do with your pet, such as nose work or letting your dog search out a toy hidden in a covered muffin tin. You can find plenty of suggestions online.
- If a dog gets lost in winter, don't chase it - or lose hope.
No one wants their dog to get lost, but especially not in cold weather. Reed says make sure your dog is always on a leash outside, even if it's usually a very responsive pet.
Of course, the unthinkable does happen, but Kathy Pobloskie, director and co-founder of Lost Dogs of Wisconsin, says hope is not lost.
"When left to their own devices, dogs are very resourceful," she says. In fact, she often tells worried clients about a particular success story involving a Chihuahua lost for four months during a harsh Wisconsin winter. The dog was found with no lasting health problems and reunited with its owners.
Pobloskie says what's most important to remember when a dog is lost in the winter weather is not to chase or pressure the animal. If a dog feels pursued, it will keep moving and stay out in the cold, rather than hunkering down in a warm spot, like mulch piles, under decks, against house foundations, under evergreen shrubbery or under landscape lights. An owner of a lost dog should flyer rather than go out searching - and possibly scaring off - their lost dog.
"Let these dogs settle, relax and then they return to a more domesticated state of mind," Pobloskie says. "Dogs who are not being pressured, not in panic mode, make very wise decisions. When dogs are panicking, pursued, they make very poor decisions. That's when they'll get hit by a car."
If you happen to find a lost dog, Pobloskie says, the same rules apply. Don't chase the dog; rather report the sighting. If the dog is sticking around near your house or even in your open garage or barn, don't make eye contact. Pobloskie says try to get below the eye level of the dog. If you can, toss out treats to the dog or put out blankets and smelly food near the place you have seen the dog.
"The whole goal is to make a dog feel relaxed and comfortable," she says. "If you put pressure on them, even just reaching out for collar, it might send dog fleeing again."
To find out more about how wild zoo animals fare in the cold weather, listen below.