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Brrrrark: When temps drop, animals need warmth, too

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Richard Rich of Washington, right, shows the frostbitten paw of Daisy Ma, a Great Dane, while visiting the former Pantagraph building last year in Bloomington. Local veterinarians say pets should remain indoors when temperatures and wind chill dip below freezing.

BLOOMINGTON — By midweek, a pair of thick gloves or a warm hat may quell the fear of frostbite, but extra precautions will be needed for our furrier friends.

When temperatures and wind chill dip below freezing, companion animals like dogs and cats should be brought inside "to the kind of temperature we enjoy," said Dr. Daniele Milazzo, a veterinarian at Bortell Animal Hospital, 2712 E. Lincoln St., Bloomington.

“Be careful when there’s ice on the ground,” she said. “Short walks to go to the bathroom are OK, but otherwise keep (pets) inside.”

On average, January and February are the coldest months for Central Illinois, according to meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Lincoln.

Although Central Illinois will see sunshine and warm temperatures for the next day or two, the mercury is expected to drop to the low 20s and teens later in the week.

Specially made boots, available at many pet stores, can help protect an animal's feet from snow, ice and frigid ground temperatures. If boots aren’t an option, Milazzo said to wipe the animal's feet well as soon as the walk is over. “You don’t want snow to get packed into their little paw pads,” she said.

Without preventative measures, frostbite can affect a pet’s feet as well as the tips of their ears and tails, causing a “slow, painful recovery,” Milazzo said.

Pet owners also should make sure to clear away any ice that may have accumulated in thicker, longer fur. Unless the pet was bred for cold temperatures, like a Siberian husky, the animal may not grow enough fur to keep warm outside in winter months. Dressing smaller dogs and those with less fur in a coat may help prevent hypothermia, Milazzo said.

“Hypothermia really slows down the body and they struggle to thrive,” she said.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, signs of hypothermia include whining, shivering, anxious behavior, moving slowly, weakness and seeking warm places to burrow.

For companion pets that are not typically allowed inside, Milazzo said it is still important to provide shelter from the cold wind: Bring them into a garage or provide a dog house filled with bedding.

If your animal gets loose during winter months, post announcements on social media and contact a local animal shelter. If you see a homeless pet, try to provide it with water, food and a sheltered area.

Larger farm animals also require a break from the wind, whether in the form of a barn or a simple lean-to that can withstand wind and heavy snow and ice.

When temperatures dip below freezing, Milazzo said access to fresh water is especially important for grazing animals. A tank heater can prevent the build-up of ice, but otherwise the owner will need to go out every day to break it up.

Cows and horses, in particular, should have extra food in the winter. The act of digestion helps to keep them warmer, Milazzo said.

According to the American Red Cross, snow fences installed in rural areas can reduce snow drift, ensuring access to homes, barns and animals’ food and water supply.

Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.

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