Keeping pets safe during cold weather

Local organizations share tips, offer resources

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Ensuring the health and well-being of your cats, dogs, and any stray animals you care for in your neighborhoods, is essential. Proper shelter, food and clean water must be provided. Pictured is Sammy, who is available for adoption at the Animal Rescue League in Marshalltown.

While it is still technically autumn, winter temperatures are upon us, especially during the overnight hours. That’s why ensuring the health and well-being of your cats, dogs, and any stray animals you care for in your neighborhoods, is essential.

According to city code, dogs that stay outdoors for four-hour long stretches or more are required to be provided with some type of shelter.

“We’ve seen people call decks or trampolines ‘shelter’ for their dogs, but those really don’t count,” said Shelly Deal, director of the Animal Rescue League of Marshalltown. “Putting dogs in sheds, garages and inside the home is best.”

Deal suggests canines — and even stray cats — be provided with insulated dog houses, complete with heating pads and heated water bowls. Even putting straw and hay in dog houses can be a great help.

“We’ll help find straw and bedding to give people who can’t afford it for their pets,” said Lisa Tichy, co-founder of Diamond in the Ruff Rescue, which primarily serves the Marshall/Tama county areas.

She also noted the importance of providing outdoor dogs with an additional food supply in the winter.

“If your outdoor dogs are super active, they should get more food in their bowls,” she said.

Dogs used to living indoors primarily are especially susceptible to cold weather-related illnesses. Pet owners need to watch out for “ice balls” which form between the pads and toes of hairy-footed dogs. Use a warm washcloth to remove any snow, ice and ice melt.

“Ice melt can cause a chemical burn on dogs,” Deal said. “There are some brands out there that are better than others to use.”

Keeping dogs’ fur long can also help them stay warm.

“Don’t shave down your dog in the winter, and you also want to limit the number of baths,” Tichy said. “Too much shampooing removes oils from their skin. Waterless shampoos that you spray then brush out work well.”

She also recommended helping prevent itchy, dry skin (for canines and humans) with the use of a humidifier in your home.

Cats are also at risk for developing weather-related illnesses — both by being left outdoors without the proper provisions and by being removed from their natural habitat.

“This is the time of year people try to catch the cats they’ve been feeding all year, and bring them to us,” Deal said.

Instead, Deal suggests making sure food and water is left out, and a shelter is provided.

“That is their home, that is where they are comfortable. When an outdoor cat is brought in to our shelter the transition is often difficult for them. They get aggressive, and the stress leads to them getting upper respiratory infections that then spread through our healthy population.”

Deal said the ARL can only adopt out cats that would make suitable pets.

“If a cat doesn’t want you to approach it, or the only way you can catch it is by trapping it, those are indicators it is not socialized and will not be adoptable,” she said.

Another alternative to bringing feral cats into the shelter is trapping them, neutering them, and then returning them to the spot in which they were taken.

“We really prefer calling this trap and return, instead of trap and release,” Deal noted. “If you get that cat neutered, it can’t reproduce and add to the population.”

The ARL does rent out trapping kits; however, it does not provide neutering services. People would need to instead take these cats to a veterinarian clinic.

“Diamond in the Ruff does perform trap and release services,” Tichy said. “We got a grant to do this in Marshalltown, and it is making a difference. We have divided up the city into quadrants, and hope to be able to branch out to other communities.”

If you see an animal you feel is being neglected, first contact your local law enforcement. Negligent pet owners can face criminal charges.

“We get a lot of calls about dogs being chained up. We can offer advice, but we can’t go in and enter someone else’s property,” Tichy said.

To learn more or to donate, contact Diamond in the Ruff at: 515-808-BARK. The ARL can be reached at: 641-753-9046.


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or