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Simple Winter Tips to Help Animals 

Annie Hornish

Winter in Connecticut is often a season of bitter cold. Here are some simple tips to help both companion animals and wildlife.


In extremely cold weather, dogs and cats should always be brought inside. If your pets are outdoors for a length of time in cold weather, they should be protected. Tip: Outdoor shelters should be dry, draft-free, and large enough to allow them to move comfortably but small enough to hold in body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches from the ground and covered with straw. (Don't use blankets or towels, since they can absorb body heat.) The doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. Pets should have access to unfrozen water and more food because keeping warm requires more energy. Use plastic food and water bowls; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal. Horses should have access to a barn or three-sided run-in, access to unfrozen water (heated buckets), and should be fed more forage—unlimited amounts, if possible—during extreme cold to help create heat and regulate body temperature.


Antifreeze is a deadly poison with a sweet taste that may attract pets and wildlife. (Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic.) Rock salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can also be poisonous. Tip: Keep antifreeze out of reach, and wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them.

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Photo: Keep your pet cats inside, and for community (feral) cats, protection from the elements can be made quickly and easily with a plastic storage tub, rigid foam insulation, and straw. 

Photo credit: Mike McFarland/The HSUS.

Warm engines in parked cars often attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood for warmth and shelter. Tip: Make it a habit to bang on your car's hood before starting your engine to scare any animals away.


If you encounter a pet left in the cold, understand that some people genuinely don’t know the risk that cold weather poses to their pets or livestock and will be quick to correct any problems once they are educated. Tip: Politely let the owner know you're concerned. But if they respond poorly or continue to neglect their animals, contact law enforcement: Per Connecticut’s animal cruelty law (CGS 53-247(a)), all animals under our custody must be provided “protection from the weather.”


Birds and wildlife can benefit from a few simple actions. Tip: Create shelters, like brush piles and even your firewood pile (pile your logs in crisscross fashion in order to create internal spaces that offer small animals a little relief from the cold), and provide a heated bird bath for drinking and bathing--a year-round necessity to keep feathers in top flying and insulating shape. When water freezes, birds expend valuable energy and risk dangerous exposure searching for other water sources—which might mean the difference between life and death.


Finally, you can get involved politically! The legislative session starts in early February 2020. Help us work to change public policy so that it reflects the commonly shared public values of peaceful coexistence with wildlife and humane treatment of animals. 


Annie Hornish is the Connecticut Senior State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a Supporting Member of the Sierra Club.

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