Protecting your pets during the winter season

Michelle Kuz: ‘People need to be proactive rather than reactive'

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA, LAKE COUNTIES — As the new year brings new, colder temperatures, local animal shelters remind pet owners to not only bundle themselves up, but to think of their pets and how to keep them safe.

“(The cold) can be fatal to dogs and cats without shelter,” Osceola County Animal Control Director Michelle Kuz said. “I always cringe every time the wind blows and it’s cold and the temperatures are taking a dip south. I always wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and worry about those that I don’t know about that don’t have the shelter — that nobody thought to call in.”

As well as worrying for the animals who don’t have a home during cold winter nights, Kuz reminds residents that a shelter too big or improperly heated can be just as harmful to their pet.

“We’re finding a lot of our residents are using cedar chips and wood chips in place of straw to keep their animals warm, and they’re not using a small enough area if they have to be kept outside,” she said.

According to Kuz, outdoor pets should have a small enough shelter where they can use their own body heat to stay warm, but not small enough where the animal can’t stand up and turn around.

“That animal has to have straw and that straw should be kept dry and should be checked regularly,” Kuz said. “(The animals) deserve that much consideration.”

To help educate the public on winter animal safety, Kuz said the center posts reminders and tips on their Facebook page, “Osceola County Animal Control.”

“We encourage people (to contact us) if they have suspicions, they’re not wasting animal control’s time if they want a wellness check done,” Kuz said. “People need to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Being proactive

Lake County Animal Control Officer Alyssa Chapman said the center receives an increase of welfare checks during the winter time, requesting officers come check out an animal which area residents believe may be in danger.

Chapman said she welcomes the opportunity to educate the public on how to keep their pets safe during the winter, and mentioned few tips outdoor pet owners should keep in mind.

“Your salt you use to ensure your ground is able to be walked on ... that can burn some animals’ paws,” she said. “When you go to the stores in your neighborhood, they’ll have ‘pet-safe salt, and that’s just to make sure they can walk on it without burning their feet.”

Chapman also encourages outdoor pet owners to never leave anti-freeze outdoors and to clean up any puddles which may be in the driveway, as the chemical can be extremely poisonous to animals.

“Avoiding outdoor weather is a big thing to avoid frostbite,” Chapman said, noting the importance of limited outdoor time during the winter.

Those who don’t have the opportunity to spend time indoors are ones who may try to find shelter elsewhere. Because of this, Chapman also reminds residents to check their engine compartment on their cars.

“(Stray cats) like to stay in a warm engine (during the winter),” she said.

Research your pets

While there are many things which can harm an outdoor animal, Mecosta County Animal Rescue Coalition (ARC) Manager Cynthia Glazier wants to remind owners to not only research which harmful products to avoid, but to research their animal’s breed.

“Just like how different people react differently to the weather, different breeds of animals act differently according to the weather,” she said.

According to Glazier, owners of outdoor pets should research their animals and know what temperature is too cold for them, as well as how to keep them healthy.

“You should know your dog’s limitations when it comes to cold weather. What’s too cold for one breed isn’t for another,” Glazier said. “Dogs can get frostbite just like humans can. There’s frostbite warnings for humans — animals are just as susceptible. Sometimes more so, because they can’t put on protective clothing like we can.”

Glazier also encourages owners to keep a close eye on what their pet is eating, as well what products are heating their outdoor homes.

“If your animal is a strictly outdoor animal, you need to make sure it has fresh water, not ice,” she said. “Animals which are outdoor-only also need extra nutritious food because it takes more energy to keep warm.”

Glazier added if an animals cannot have a heated shelter, to use straw for the bedding, as it will help repel water, while keeping the animal warm. Glazier said to make sure to buy straw, not hay, because hay can hold moisture from the snow and rain and can become moldy.

“You really need to just know your own animal and know what its cold tolerance is, and then act accordingly,” Glazier said.

Those who are concerned their animal has frostbite or hypothermia are encouraged to seek medical professional help before acting.

“They should always, if they can, consult a veterinarian first, because with varying degrees of hypothermia or frostbite, you can do more harm than good,” Glazier said. “Recognizing the symptoms is not always easy, so it’s better to contact a medical professional.”

To learn more about how to keep pets safe during the winter, visit

Cold weather pet tips

• When temperatures plummet, pets should not be left outside for any length of time. Bring small or short-haired pets in when temperatures reach 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Larger breeds and thick-coated dogs may remain outside, with adequate shelter, to a temperature of zero.

• Precipitation and wind chill should also be taken into account.

• Cats should be kept indoors or at least brought into a warm, animal proofed garage during severe weather.

• Roaming cats often seek the warmth of car engines, so be sure to knock on the car hood or honk the horn before starting your car to startle them and give them a chance to escape.

• Increase the amount of food by 10-20 percent for dogs left outside during the winter months. The extra calories are needed to help an animal to stay warm.

• Regular access to clean, unfrozen water is also critical. Check drinking water frequently – every few hours – to ensure that it is unfrozen.

• If an animal is cold to the touch, or his paws and ears are pale, he may be suffering from frostbite. Move the animal to a warmer area and contact your veterinarian immediately.


Signs of frostbite

• Discoloration of the affected area of skin (often pale, gray or bluish)

• Coldness and/or brittleness of the area when touched

• Pain when body part(s) are touched Swelling of the affected area(s)

• Blisters or skin ulcers

• Areas of blackened or dead skin


Number to call

ARC of Mecosta County: 231-796-2683

Osceola County Animal Control: 231-832-5790

Lake County Animal Control: 231-745-3079