By Tatiana Garrett
Despite confusing weather patterns across the country—winter is here! Whether you have fur babies or love local wildlife, review these important cold weather tips for animal lovers.
When it’s cold out, people may be likely to feed wildlife because they think food is scarce. Whether you like birds, squirrels, or raccoons, always resist the urge to feed or interact with wildlife. The intention may come from a good place because food is nourishment and is necessary for survival, but there are many reasons why it is a bad idea (and illegal in many places).
If you leave food out in urban areas, you’re just as likely to be supporting rats as your intended critter. Feeding wild animals by hand breaks down their natural inclination to avoid people, which will lead to many problems for animals as they approach people that aren’t nice or enter roadways as they attempt to reach people.
What people feed is often a problem too. Stale white bread holds little nutritional value, but can make animals feel full and decrease their drive to forage for the foods they should be eating—therefore inducing malnutrition. Wildlife has been around long before our urban populations. Respect them by leaving them alone.
In cold temperatures, humane investigators see a spike in calls regarding animals being left outdoors because the freezing temperatures raise neighbors’ concern. Laws vary in each state, but fundamental duties of pet caregivers are to provide food, water, shelter, and necessary veterinary care for their pets. Sadly, I’ve heard many people protest in regard to their dogs, saying that dogs are like wolves and wolves can live outside, so they should be able to leave the dogs out. Domestic dogs we see today evolved from wolves thousands of years ago. A Chihuahua, Pomeranian, or even the average shorthaired mutt bear little resemblance to wolves and cannot withstand harsh temperatures. Pets can get frostbite when exposed to cold for extended periods, just like people can.
Cats and rabbits should be included in this consideration too. Cats should be kept indoors year-round to keep them safe from traffic and other hazards, but in cold temperatures, cats have been known to climb up under the hoods of cars to seek warmth from the engine. Rabbits fare much better as indoor companion animals too. They are extremely smart and social and can be litter box trained. A bunny outside in a hutch is vulnerable to predators and extreme temperatures. So keep your pets inside as much as possible when the weather is frigid outside, they’ll be safer and cozier.
Something is Afoot!
Feet become extremely important in winter. Dog parents should keep a towel near the door to wipe paws when coming into the house after a walk. This allows you to get ice that may be packed into the webbing between toes, and to check for cuts that may have occurred. Make some D.I.Y. paw wax and keep their paws moisturized and protected all winter long. Booties and foot protectors are available, but it can take some time for your pooch to get acclimated to foot coverings.
Winter weather usually means materials are laid out on roads and sidewalks to prevent slipping. Materials used range from sand to kitty litter to harsh de-icing chemicals. If you don’t wipe these materials off your pets’ feet, they will use their mouths to clean their own paws and many of these materials can be toxic. Use the same precautions for your own shoes and avoid tracking hazardous chemicals inside.
Stay safe and warm this winter, and let those cold wet noses warm your hearts.
Please share your own cold weather tips for animal lovers in the comment section below.
Tatiana Garrett grew up with Borzoi, a rescued Standard Poodle, cats, hamsters, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs, and an iguana… just to name a few pets. She began her professional career with animals in 1995 at Brookfield Zoo. She has studied wild dolphins in Australia and rescued wildlife in Florida, but people are truly at the heart of her work. If it walks, hops, or slithers, Tatiana cares about it. She currently oversees the Humane Education programs at The Anti-Cruelty Society and hosts “Chicago Tails“ on Watch312.com.