Is Fido freezing? How to keep pets safe during cold snaps

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Cold snaps like the one currently gripping the D.C. area make for very busy days and nights for animal control officers.

“We’re getting a very large increase in calls for animals left outside for what people feel are extended periods of time,” said Cara Thomas, animal services officer for Montgomery County, Maryland.

For dog owners who keep or take their animals outside during the cold, there are rules that must be followed.

“Right now, you cannot have dogs outside tethered,” Thomas said.

Also, dogs must have sufficient shelter, which — in the case of a doghouse —  must have solid walls and roof, a wind flap at the entrance and be insulated. Use nonabsorbent bedding, such as straw or hay, Thomas said. Don’t use blankets, which can get wet.

“If the dog is damp, it will make them colder,” Thomas said.

For people who may have concerns about a dog they see outside, Thomas offered tips for assessing the situation. She said to look at the dog’s overall condition: Does it look underweight or as if it is suffering?

“Those are circumstances that at any time, no matter the weather, we want to further investigate,” she said.

If the dog is wagging its tail and seems healthy, it may be that the owners are allowing it some time outside to play. “You have something big and hairy like a Newfoundland, and it’s just rolling around on its back in the snow,” Thomas said as an example.

See if the animal has access to proper shelter, such as a home or doghouse. Thomas said they are seeing more and more homeowners installing dog doors, which give their animals inside and outside access at all times.

Watch the dog to determine if it goes inside at times, Thomas said. “The dog might be barking at you at the fence and then, like a couple minutes [later], you hear the dog barking inside,” she said.

If, after observing the animal and its surroundings, someone is still concerned about the creature’s well-being, they should call animal services so an officer can check on the animal.

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