If you think it’s cold, they do too: Tips for helping your pet weather the winter months

A black and white tuxedo feral cat looks through a fence on a lot in the northwest section of North Platte. The cat was among the handful of ferals that showed up at a feeding and shelter station that was set up by Trap Neuter Return. The organization attempts to control the feral cat popluation in the city.

There are plenty of people who find no joy in having to face the changing and often challenging weather conditions during the winter months in Nebraska.

The same could be said for those individuals’ pets.

Basically if it’s too cold to be outside beyond a few moments, it probably is for a dog or cat as well.

“Yes, (dogs) have fur coats but they are not made to be outdoor animals,” said Jenn Milne, the executive director of Fur the Love of Paws Rescue. “They really need to be inside with their families.”

That is one suggestion to keep in mind over the cold-weather months.

With that in mind, Milne was asked to provide some winter pet tips along with Jo Mayber, the president of Paws-itive Partners, and Linda Lund, one of the partners with Trap Neuter Return, an organization that works to control the feral cat population in North Platte.

Sign up for Kearney Hub daily news updates

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Here are their thoughts on how to make the winter months more comfortable for pets.

Bring your pets inside at night

While some dogs might enjoy the time they have in a snow-filled backyard — especially a thick-coated husky — there are times when the outdoor conditions are too much for a pet.

When temperatures fall below 32 degrees, dogs should be allowed to join their families inside, especially at night.

“There’s a belief that if you brought an outside dog in for the night that it’s being spoiled,” Mayber said. “That’s not true.

“Most breeds are not intended to be outside continuously. They want to be inside with their families.”

Mayber added that at a minimum, dogs should have access to some form of shelter. Lund and the volunteers with Trap Neuter Return have built shelters out of large Styrofoam containers filled with straw at various locations throughout North Platte where colonies of feral cats are known to gather.

The key is to give the animals a place that will protect them from the winter elements — low wind chills or blowing snow or ice that dampens their coats.

That leads to the next tip.

Limit the time pets spend outdoors overall

The ears, nose, tails and paws of pets are all susceptible to frostbite, so in bitter-cold temperatures the amount of time they spend outside should be limited to when necessary.

“Especially with smaller (breeds) you don’t want to let your dogs outside in the winter unattended,” Milne said. “You always need to go out with them and watch them. (Frostbite) can happen real quick, especially with small dogs. They become frozen in the snow or cold weather and almost immobile.”

Be wary of use or leakage of chemicals used in winter

Antifreeze can leak from a car’s engine onto a driveway or garage, and the smell and initial sweet taste of the liquid can attract a pet to lap it up and potentially poison itself.

Ice melt, the rock salt product that is used to clear ice from sidewalks, can be harmful to pets as well. The main ingredient in the products is calcium chloride, magnesium chloride or sodium chloride.

“We do see a lot of cases in the vet clinic where (the pets) get burns on their paws or it will get stuck on their paws and they will ingest it, and it’s toxic,” Milne said.

Nontoxic, pet-friendly versions of ice melt can be purchased. Pets can also wear boots to protect their paws outside.

Owners should thoroughly wipe off their pets’ paws and stomach when they come inside to remove any antifreeze or ice melt.

Make sure that pets have adequate food and water

If a dog or cat puts on a few pounds over the winter, it might not necessarily be a bad thing.

“They are burning more calories, trying to stay warm,” Mayber said. “I think for cats and dogs that are outside often should have free-run access to food (in the winter).”

Lund and her volunteers provide food for at least 120 cats a day at the feeding stations that they set up for feral cat colonies across the city. When a winter storm is approaching, the group will lay out extra food.

The feral cats are fed canned food as well, as it provides the animal with more moisture to live off of.

The same could be said for a water supply. One issue in the winter months is water in pets’ dishes freezing. Lund said her group has used heated dishes to try to address that issue.

“People need to keep checking on that water,” Mayber said. “They might place it out (for the pets) but forget about it and it freezes. Then their pets don’t have access to water, and they can get dehydrated just as easy during the winter as they do in the summer.”

Give a quick check before you start your car each morning

Feral or stray cats often look for warmth or shelter in the wheel well or engine of a vehicle at night as temperatures dip.

Lund suggested that people knock on the hoods of their vehicles before starting them as it might startle any animal that might be camping there.

Speaking of cars ...

People are aware of the danger of leaving a pet in a car on a hot day, but a cold car in winter can be just as uncomfortable for a dog or cat.

“It doesn’t matter if the temperature is perfect or it is cold or hot, you should never leave your pet unattended in a car,” Milne said. “A dog might like to go for a ride, but it’s not fun for them to sit in a car by themselves for hours while their owner is shopping or whatever. They sit in the car wondering where their owner went.”

Be vigilant for animals

Trap Neuter Return has worked with 274 feral cats this year in North Platte, including 82 kittens. While the group is aware where a number of feral cat colonies can be found in the city, they also rely on tips and concern from local residents.

Some people might see the feral cats as a nuisance. But Milne said, “They didn’t ask to be homeless and I think it is important for the community to help provide for them. If that is putting up a shelter or setting out some food or water or contacting (an agency) about it, you are doing something that might save their life.”

Milne said if people see a dog or another animal that looks like it is not being cared for, “take pictures and document it and call animal control. Reach out and help (an animal) which might not have a chance without you.”