Animals need protection from frigid winter temperature

Barbara Hootman

The temperature is in the teens, the wind is howling, and the rain or snow just keeps coming down. Many dogs are left to fend for themselves. They curl tightly lying on the cold ground trying to survive winter’s worst. This should never happen to any animal.

“Just like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, even if they are thick-coated breeds,” said Clary Pickering, media coordinator for the Asheville Human Society. “They need to be kept inside during frigid weather. Fur isn’t always enough. If you’re cold, they’re cold. If your pet will tolerate a coat or a jacket, it can keep it warm on a walk.”

In Buncombe County it is not a matter of just doing what is right for an animal. It’s also the law.

Buncombe County ordinances state that an animal has to have a structure to protect it from inclement weather or sun, consisting of least three sides, a floor and a roof. The structure must be built of durable fiber, wood, plastic, or other nonmetallic material and be insulated so an animal can maintain its body heat.

Structures for all animals must be large enough to allow all animals to turn around, lie down and stretch comfortably. The walls must keep out rain, sleet, and snow. The animal must have constant access to a supply of water that is clean, fresh and visibly free of debris and organic material.

The Asheville Humane Society recommends that a doghouse face south or east, preventing the opening from facing the wind. Ideally, the doghouse would be raised off the ground. Buncombe County law also requires adequate bedding. Use straw or cedar shavings for bedding to keep the dog house dry.

“The ideal situation is to bring dogs and cats inside when the temperature drops to frigid levels,” Denise Bitz, executive director of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, said via e-mail. “Animals get cold just like we do. If you can’t or won’t bring an outside dog inside, make sure it has adequate shelter, and don’t use blankets for bedding because they draw moisture and stay wet. Use straw or cedar shavings. Outside dogs need extra dog food and fresh water during the coldest weather. Check their dishes often, because food and water freeze quickly.

“Cats need to stay inside during cold weather just like dogs. If they have to stay outside a simple Rubber Maid container filled with straw will help protect them. If anyone needs help with doghouses or crates, contact Brother Wolf Animal Rescue at”

The Humane Society of the United States offers some tips for protecting animals in frigid weather.

  • Cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars to stay warm. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. Bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give a cat a chance to escape.
  • Never let your dog off leash during a snow or ice storm. Dogs can lose their scent and become lost. Make sure your dog always wears ID tags and is microchipped.
  • After a walk, wipe off your dog’s legs, paws, including between the toes, and stomach. Dogs can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking their paws. And paw pads may bleed from snow or ice.
  • Never shave a dog’s hair down to the skin in winter. A longer coat of hair adds insulation. If you bathe your dog in the winter, completely dry the coat before taking the dog outside in cold temperatures. If the dog is short-haired, purchase a sweater or coat with a turtleneck that covers the dog from the neck to the base of the tail.
  • Never leave a dog or cat alone in a car during winter. A car can become like a refrigerator and cause the animal to freeze to death.
  • Thoroughly clean up coolant and antifreeze because it is a lethal poison when ingested by dogs and cats.
  • Inside make sure your dog and cat have a warm place to sleep off the floor and way from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket is good.

Speak out if you see a pet left out in the cold. Notify the owner that the animal needs protection and document what you see with your phone camera. Record the date, time, exact location and type of animal and as many details as possible. Contact Buncombe County Animal Control at 255-5000.

Horses need access to a barn or a three-sided “run-in” so they can escape wind and cold. Horse blankets help horses keep warm and dry. Give horses access to unfrozen water at all times. You can use heated buckets or water heaters/deicers to make sure the water doesn’t freeze. Feed the horses more forage in unlimited amounts during extreme cold. This will help horses create heat and regulate their body temperatures.

Marilyn Walker, who has advocated for animals for 30 years in Western North Carolina, said chained dogs have the worst situations, especially in cold weather.

“If they are fortunate enough to have a dog house, often their chains become tangled and they can’t reach the shelter,” she said. “Also, chained dogs often upset their water dishes and go for hours or even days without water. If concerned animal lovers don’t help them, who will?

“There have been at least two cases of dogs freezing to death in the Valley in last few years. That is a shame because it is a totally preventable situation.”