Now is the time to bring dogs and other companion animals indoors, out of the cold. Over the next week, the National Weather Service is
predicting dangerously low temps. “Any animal will suffer if left outside in extremely low temperatures. It’s a myth that they somehow adjust because they are an animal. We have dealt with cases of dogs and cats freezing to death outdoors in Wisconsin weather. It’s up to all of us to protect them,” says OAHS Executive Director Joni Geiger. Shorthaired dog breeds like Labrador retrievers, beagles, and terriers, along with very young and elderly dogs are most susceptible to hypothermia, a potentially deadly condition where body temperature falls below normal. Signs include strong shivering, lethargy, difficulty breathing, lack of coordination, pale or blue gums, and dilated pupils. As the condition progresses, severe hypothermia may include neurological problems (including coma), heart issues, kidney failure, and eventually death. “Even if your dog is not normally in the house you can make them a shelter in a garage or basement. Any cooler area of the house is better than outside,” says Geiger.
There are state and local laws regarding minimum requirements for housing animals outdoors. The City of Oshkosh Municipal Codes state the following requirements (with some exceptions for chickens): Outdoor housing must be structurally sound, moisture proof and kept in good repair. The housing must allow the animal adequate freedom of movement and also retain body heat. It must have a solid floor at least two inches off the ground. The house must have a self-closing, swinging covering or an L-shaped entrance to prevent wind, rain and snow from blowing into the house. The housing must also contain a suitable quality of clean, dry bedding to promote insulation, protection and retention of body heat. Animals must have access to fresh, not frozen, water.
It’s also important to limit exercise time outdoors during periods of extreme temperatures. Dogs should only be let out for as long as they need to go to the bathroom and owners should be supervising for signs of discomfort such as lifting paws, shivering and difficulty walking. Boots, coats and other cold-weather gear can also be used to help protect them while outdoors.
Geiger says it’s important for the community to speak up if they see an animal left outdoors. “If you see an animal outside in this weather and there are no signs of their people or they are chained outside without access to a proper shelter, call your local law enforcement immediately. It becomes a matter of life and death.”