Pet Tales: Freezing weather no friend to animals

Sub-zero temperatures earlier this week put dogs and their walkers at risk of frostbite on outings longer than five or 10 minutes, and hundreds of concerned animal lovers flooded the phone lines of local humane agents to report dogs and other pets left outside for hours on end.

Animal welfare organizations and Pet Tales readers have provided some great cold weather tips ranging from wireless heating pads that can be used indoors and outdoors and a magic wax that protects dog paws from ice-melting chemicals. Read on to see them.

In Allegheny County, Animal Friends and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society each employ two humane agents, and they were out on the road nonstop every day this week. The Animal Rescue League stayed open at night to take in dogs and cats picked up by animal control. We don't have any reports of dogs or cats dying in the cold. The three shelters took in seven dogs and seven cats removed from owners who kept them outside with inadequate shelter.

"Ninety-nine percent of the animals our agents investigated had been brought inside or had shelter" that was adequate according to state law, said Shelley Rosenberg, office assistant for agents at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. She fielded more than 100 telephone complaints Tuesday.

Ken Feree of Feree Kennels animal control ordered several owners to bring pets inside, and reported them to the Humane Society so that agents could follow up, Ms. Rosenberg said.

Animals that need our help the most might be birds, and I hadn't thought of them.

"Cold snap will be a killer for birds," warns the headline on a news release from the American Bird Conservancy. Putting out extra food in bird feeders and on the ground, including suet and fruit for birds that don't eat seeds, "can make the difference between life and death for some birds," according to Daniel Lebbin, the organization's conservation biologist.

Birds need ice-free water to survive, Mr. Lebbin said. The conservancy suggests putting out warm water and changing it frequently or installing a bird bath heater. Try floating a small ball in the birdbath or water source. Even a slight wind will move the ball around, keeping some of the water free of ice. I found heated bird baths on sale for $44.99 to $99.99 at

Steffi Bruninghaus uses Snuggle Safe microwave heat pads under food and water bowls she places outdoors to feed feral cats in Squirrel Hill. I bet they could be used under bird baths, too.

Pads heated in the microwave for five minutes stay warm for up to 10 hours. The pads, which the manufacturer claims are bite-resistant, are sometimes placed in outdoor cat and dog houses. Use them inside your house for short-haired or elderly pets that have trouble staying warm.

Ms. Bruninghaus, who volunteers with Homeless Cat Management Team and runs the Three Rivers Community Cats Facebook page, says she can't find Snuggle Safe pads in local stores. I found them at on sale last week for $26.99 instead of the usual $45.

Animal Friends, 562 Camp Horne Road, distributes free straw for feral cat shelters. Don't use blankets, towels or pillows; they'll get wet and will freeze.

And now for pets that live inside:

After a romp in the snowy backyard or midway through a walk on snow-covered sidewalks, Pablo our cocker spaniel used to limp or hold up a front paw. The snow had clumped and formed ice balls between the pads. Put the paw in your warm hand and the ice will melt, sooner or later. Prevention is the better way to go.

Musher's Secret wax, developed in Canada for sled dogs, prevents ice buildup and protects paws from salt and other chemicals used to melt ice on roads and sidewalks.

Many stores sell Musher's Secret, but I like to recommend that people shop small and buy local. It's available at Rolliers Hardware in Mt. Lebanon, Animal Nature in Regent Square, Larry's Laundromutt in Edgeworth and Woody's Dog Wash and Pet Boutique in South Park. The price is about $15 for a 7-ounce can that can get one dog through several winters. Here's the easiest way to apply: Put each paw directly onto the wax and rub the paw around. Use your fingers to work the wax into the spaces between the pads. Wax-covered paws will not stain floors, rugs or furniture.

After walking dogs on chemical-covered walkways, wipe their paws with a cloth and warm water. Many dogs lick their paws and the chemicals can be toxic.

When temperatures dipped below zero this week, shelter volunteers and staff limited walks to five-minute potty breaks for the safety of dogs and people. Pets can get frostbite in a matter of minutes, especially on feet, ears and tail tips, according to a news release from Animal Friends.

Call your veterinarian if you see signs of hypothermia: extreme shivering, pale or blue mucus membranes, stupor, dilated pupils, or weak pulse.

Paramedics for pets

Donations and supplies are being collected at medic stations in Pittsburgh through Wednesday for the Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center of Pittsburgh.

The Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics and the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Emergency Medical Services are doing the drive as a tribute to Ed Alexander, a union leader, paramedic crew chief and a volunteer dog walker. Donations will be delivered to the Larimer shelter Jan. 20, the one-year anniversary of Mr. Alexander's death.

Go to and click on "wishlist" to see what is needed. Wishes include towels, blankets, bleach, peanut butter, dog and cat toys, stainless-steel dog bowls, kitty litter, crocheted or knitted blankets, rubber or latex gloves, and wildlife food ranging from mealworms to sweet potato baby food.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Contact Linda Wilson on her Facebook page, or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.