OAW Encourages Pets Stay Indoors


While the snow has moved out of our area, bitter cold wind chills ranging from zero degrees to 15 below are expected for the weekend. The Delaware Division of Public Health’s Office of Animal Welfare (OAW) has been receiving and responding to an increasing number of calls during the recent cold weather. OAW takes each complaint seriously and investigates to ensure the safety of domestic pets. With this in mind, OAW is providing additional information and guidance regarding shelter requirements for pets, and in particular, dogs, to enable residents to protect their pets from dangerous weather conditions.

While it is understood that not everyone has indoor dogs, it is best for dogs to be indoors during times of extreme cold weather. Dogs that are acclimated to Delaware’s outdoor temperatures are allowed to be kept outdoors, but Delaware law requires that owners provide clean, moisture-resistant bedding, and additional bedding and protection for temperatures 35 degrees Fahrenheit (1.7 degrees Celsius) or lower. OAW recommends straw bedding because it does not hold moisture like cedar chips or old towels. A warm house with a flap and clean, dry bedding helps a dog preserve body heat and remain dry during rain or snow.

Short-haired dogs and other breeds that are not acclimated to Delaware’s outdoor temperatures cannot be kept in outdoor facilities unless approved by a licensed veterinarian. While cats are not covered under the same law, outdoor felines need the same winter accommodations.

All dogs are required to be brought indoors when the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a hazardous weather warning. While all three Delaware counties are no longer under an NWS weather warning, OAW is strongly encouraging pet owners to bring all pets indoors due to the dangerously low temperatures Delaware is experiencing this weekend.

“If you’re cold, they’re cold,” said OAW Acting Director Christina Motoyoshi. “Like people, dogs and cats are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside when the temperatures get this low.”

OAW officers are responding to calls across the state and are working with pet owners to ensure their animals’ continued health and safety during these cold temperatures. If you see a pet that has been left outdoors in cold temperatures without proper shelter or protection from the elements, report it to the Delaware Animal Services Hotline at 302-255-4646. Residents are advised, however, to limit their reports to cases in which they physically witnessed improper treatment or care of an animal. For more information, visit: https://animalservices.delaware.gov/.

Take these additional precautions to protect your pet in the cold:

· Limit time outside. Keep walks short and wipe off your dog’s legs, paws and stomach with a towel when coming in from walks or from being outside.

· Ensure access to water at all times. Frequently check water bowls to ensure water is not frozen. If you typically use a metal watering bowl, replace it with plastic as a pet’s tongue can get stuck to metal in cold temperatures.

· Additional food may be needed. Animals burn more calories in cold temperatures in order to stay warm, so you may need to increase the amount of food you provide. Check with your veterinarian about your pet’s nutritional needs in cold weather.

· Keep your dog on a leash at all times while outdoors. Dogs can lose their scent and get lost when snow or ice is on the ground, especially during snowstorms.

· Outdoor cats need attention, too. Whether outdoor cats are owned, stray, or feral, they need the same protection from cold weather as your pets. If there are outdoor cats in your neighborhood, provide them with dry, warm shelter, as well as food and water to help them survive dangerously low temperatures. For your own safety, do not handle any unfamiliar animals, particularly if the rabies vaccination status is unknown. An animal may have rabies and not exhibit any external signs.

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