Cold Weather Pet Tips - Michigan Humane Society

Cold Weather Pet Tips

MHS' Cruelty Investigators Responding Daily to Weather-Related Calls

December 15, 2016

As temperatures drop, those who will suffer the worst this season are pets – dogs and cats left outside for long periods of time and forced to weather the biting winds and extreme cold.

Pet owners across the area can use these simple tips to ensure that this winter is a safe and happy season for their pets.

  • 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.

MHS strongly urges that all pet owners allow their animals to reside inside, especially during extreme weather. However, if people leave their pets outdoors for any length of time, they are required by Michigan state law to provide them with adequate food, water and shelter.

Adequate shelter for dogs, as defined by state law, means a well-built, insulated, slant-roofed dog house. The interior should be just large enough for the dog to stand and to lie down comfortably. It should be slightly elevated from the ground for air circulation. The door should face away from prevailing winds and have a protective flap to eliminate drafts.

“Every winter, our Cruelty Investigators respond to hundreds of complaints about pets that are left outdoors without adequate shelter,” said Mark Ramos, MHS Senior Cruelty Investigator. “We urge everyone to bring pets indoors, at minimum during the frigid winter months, to protect their pets and prevent needless suffering.”

Clean, dry straw should be provided for bedding rather than towels, rugs or blankets, which absorb moisture and freeze in frigid temperatures.

The Michigan Humane Society provides free straw to community members in need. Straw is available at our Detroit warehouse location (6175 Trumbull) on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am-12pm; Saturdays from 10am-1pm. You do not need to be a member of the food bank program in order to receive straw. Amount is limited to two bales a person, but can be picked up as often as necessary.

Several types of inadequate shelter frequently encountered by MHS Cruelty Investigators include an unheated garage or shed, a dog house that is too large or lacks straw, or dogs simply tied out to a porch, fence or deck with no shelter at all.

To report pets left outside without proper shelter in Detroit, Hamtramck or Highland Park, residents can call the Michigan Humane Society’s Cruelty Hotline at (313) 872-3401. A confidential message can be left 24 hours a day. In other cities, animal cruelty should be reported to the local animal control or police.

Failing to provide proper provisions for pets can result in misdemeanor animal cruelty violations carrying a sentence of up to 93 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, community service, and loss of pet ownership for a specified amount of time.

To help the Michigan Humane Society rescue and care for animals this winter, donations can be made online at, or by calling 1-866-MHUMANE, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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