'If you're cold, they're cold': Animal groups urge owners to look out for pets

CHAMPAIGN — With temperatures dropping to near-record lows over the next few days, pet-friendly organizations across the county are reminding people to look out for stray animals, and keep your own pets comfortable.

"If you're cold, they're cold," is a good rule of thumb for Champaign County Humane Society Executive Director Mary Tiefenbrunn, who said dangerous temperatures for humans can be as or more dangerous for small animals. Ear tips, paws and other extremities are prone to frostbite, and salt on roads can be an irritant to dogs' paws, Tiefenbrunn said.

But lows in the single digits and the potential for sub-freezing temperatures to continue into next week mean that if you see something, say something.

"If you see that there's an imminent risk of injury, death or something that requires immediate response, call 911," Tiefenbrunn said. "If you see an animal outside and too much time has gone by, they could get seriously hurt from exposure."

There are other ways stray animals can get hurt during deep freezes, and Dr. Caroline Tonozzi, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois, said animals looking for warmth can end up in dangerous situations.

"More times than others, if we were to find that a stray animal is having a problem, it's because they've been involved in a car accident," Tonozzi said. "Make sure to always check that there's no animals under the car, on a tire or inside the hood of the car. That's how they injure themselves in weather like this, because they're trying to find warmth in your garage or in your car."

Sluggishness and slow movement can be signs a stray animal may be suffering from hypothermia, Tonozzi said. Often, animals lose heat from cold surfaces and shiver at first but then stop as their heart rate slows down and the cold becomes too much, she added.

Keeping walks outside to a minimum — Tonozzi suggests 30 minutes; Tiefenbrunn said less than that — and making sure to clean any ice, salt or snow off your pet will keep them safe in a deep freeze.

Tiefenbrunn said this is a great time to play with your pet in innovative ways.

"There are a lot of great mental exercises you can do if you have a high-energy dog," Tiefenbrunn said. "Mental stimulation can help get rid of a lot of pent-up energy, and training exercises and interactive toys are important too. It might take more effort rather than just letting them out to run around, but it's safer."

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    Photo by: Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette