As the weather gets colder, understanding how to keep pets safe and warm is crucial, says an official from the Hopkins County Humane Society.

Dustin Miller, executive director of the local Humane Society, said ideally when the weather gets colder, pet owners should bring their animals inside until the weather breaks.

“We do understand that that is not always a possibility so we encourage for each animal to have a shelter, and it needs to be a size-appropriate shelter for that animal,” said Miller.

The animal needs to be able to get in, turn around, sit up and lay down in the shelter, he said.

The humane society suggests using straw as bedding, as opposed to hay because straw provides insulation and it can repel water, Miller said.

The main thing to take into account when considering bedding is what will keep moisture out of the shelter.

“Once that bedding gets wet and it absorbs water, than it freezes with the temperatures and can actually freeze the animal to the bedding and cause serious, life-threatening damage to the animal,” said Miller.

For a normal sized dog house, the humane society suggests about half a bale of straw for each shelter. It may seem like a lot of straw when it is first put in, but as the animal gets in the shelter and lays down, it becomes a little nest, he said.

Making sure the roof of the shelter is water proof is essential in keep moisture out and the animal safe, said Miller. People can use trash bags, grocery sacks, any type of plastic or material that will repel moisture to modify the shelter roof.

“Basically, what you want to try to do is keep as much moisture out of that shelter as possible,” said Miller.

Something a lot of people don’t think about in the winter months, but is very important, is animals having access to clean water, he said.

“We actually see more animals come in dehydrated in the winter months than in the summer months and that is because all of the water access is frozen during colder temperatures,” said Miller.

Some ways to keep water in constant access to outside animals it through heated water bowls that can be bought at any local pet store or at Rural King, he said. Using a five-gallon bucket and burying it in the ground with just the lip of the bucket showing can help keep water from freezing.

“It is not going to prevent it completely, especially as temperatures drop down into the 20s and teens, but the level it is frozen can easily be broken up for that animal to have that fresh drinking water,” said Miller.

Something important to remember when breaking up the ice in the water bowls is to remove the ice after it is broken up, otherwise it will freeze more quickly, he said.

For larger animals, like farm animals, as long as they can get under a tree then that is considered adequate shelter, said Miller. The humane society, however, suggests having some type of wind break for the animals like a tree line or a lean-to in the field.

“Ideally, a barn would be nice, but again that is not always possible,” he said.

Having a wind break and access to clean water that is not frozen are the main things to keep in mind for farm animals.

If an animal stays outside in the cold for too long, then Miller said to get them inside and get the animal to the vet immediately. Check for any signs of hypothermia or frost bite on the paws and wrap the animal in a blanket.

“You want to warm the animal, but you don’t want to warm the animal too quickly or too much,” said Miller.

For dogs and cats experiencing hypothermia look for shivering, they are going to be lethargic, they may have stiff muscles, they will have gray or pale gums, look for stumbling or a lack of coordination and fixed or dilated pupils, he said. The animal will have changes in their heart rate and breathing rate.

If there is ice on their paws or ice matted in their fur try to get that out, but don’t pull it out or try to cut it out, he said. Set the animal in a warm place and let the ice melt away from the fur.

“You don’t want to try to heat it up too much because you then run the risk of burning the animal, so no hot water and no blow dryers, unless you are really monitoring the heat setting you have on the blow dryer,” said Miller.

With larger animals, the important thing to pay attention to is signs of them being lethargic and having fixed or dilated pupils, he said. They may have white or discolored gums, but that is typically an indication of dehydration with larger animals.

Miller asked that anyone in the community who cannot properly care for their animal during these colder nights to call the Humane Society for assistance.

The Hopkins County Humane Society is located at 2210 Laffoon Trail and can be reached at 270-821-8965. They are open Monday through Saturday by appointment only.