Elements not always kind to animals | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Elements not always kind to animals

Tahoe Daily Tribune Staff Reports

Winter weather means special care

By Jeff Munson

Tribune city editor

In summer, El Dorado County Animal Control officers respond routinely to complaints about dogs being left in hot cars. In winter, it’s dogs being left in the cold and snow.

“We get about the same amount of calls in both seasons,” said animal control officer Robert Gerat. “It’s real common sense type stuff that people don’t think about that becomes dangerous for pets.”

With temperatures dropping well below freezing at night, pets like people, get cold, shiver and are susceptible to weather-related injuries like frostbite and ear infections.

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Many pet owners think a dog’s coat keeps them warm enough, but that’s not necessarily the case, said veterinarian Staci Baker, from Kingsbury Veterinary Hospital in Stateline.

While a dog’s coat will thicken for the winter, the temperature threshold should be what humans can handle in outdoor weather.

“I think anything below 50 degrees is a danger zone regardless of their coat,” Baker said. “If a dog is left outside, chained up for eight hours and the temperature drops to freezing, it would be the same as a person forced to stay outside without much protection and not being able to get exercise.”

And the same goes for cats. In fact, cats shouldn’t be outside in winter, Baker said. While dogs have thicker coats and a thicker layer of skin for protection, cat fur isn’t enough to keep the animal warm for long.

“Literally, a cat has thin skin,” Baker said. “They are prone to frostbite much more than a dog.”

Animal control responds to about 10 to 15 calls a month in winter involving dogs left out in the cold. Of those calls, officers look to see what kind of dog it is – a thick-coated husky or a small, short-haired dog; the weather conditions and whether the dog has adequate shelter, food and water.

Last week, animal control responded to a complaint about a dog whose chain was wrapped and frozen so it couldn’t move. The chow mix had a thick coat of hair but it could not get to any shelter and was hopelessly stuck in one place for hours.

“What it had done was drag its chain through the snow. The snow on the chain would melt and freeze and melt and freeze until finally the chain was frozen into a ball,” Gerat said.

The dog was released from the chain and taken to the pound. Animal control is now reviewing the case to see if it warrants charges against the owner. Animal cruelty charges are typically misdemeanor offenses that carry a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. More egregious cases of animal cruelty are felonies.

If a dog is going to remain outside for an extended period of time, it needs shelter from the elements, Gerat said. A doghouse should have a roof and three walls, and inside should contain some kind of bedding.

Teresa Sullivan, an assistant at Sierra Veterinary Hospital, said among the more common weather-related problems they see are animals with skin and ear infections. A dog that has a thicker coat runs into the problem of snow melting and freezing on its skin, Sullivan said.

“Moisture dermatitis is common and happens when a dog sits outside for too long and doesn’t have a way to dry off,” she said. “It’s a skin infection that spreads.”

Also, it is important to clean your dogs, especially if they run near roads and walkways, where salt and brine can get into the skin, Baker added.

“When people take their dogs out for a walk, especially on the pavement where ice melt is used, the water gets into the pads of a dog’s feet which causes redness and irritation and makes them uncomfortable,” Baker said.

Another problem animal control officers see are frozen water bowls. Pet owners forget that even though the sun may be shining, water still freezes at 32 degrees.

Pet stores sell a variety of heated dog bowls that typically run $35 and up. They also sell heated bedding for dog houses, dog sweaters and boots.