Take care of animals during this frigid spell

The first week of January has been like the last week of December was: frigid cold with minus zero wind chills and all tha comes with it.

When such conditions set in, it’s time for us to bundle up and take some precautions to ensure we remain safe and healthy when we are outdoors. Our pets, however, cannot do that for themselves, so we need to be certain that we are caring for them properly as well.

Dogs and cats — and rabbits, livestock and our other four-legged friends — need appropriate shelter as the temperatures fall. These critters may have built-in fur coats, but that won’t be enough to protect them when conditions become bitterly cold and damp.

Any animal that spends the majority of its time outdoors should have a sturdy structure that it can enter any time it would like to warm up. That shelter should include a cozy area filled with warm bedding material, such as straw or old towels or blankets.

It’s also important to ensure that outdoor animals have easy access to plenty of nutritious food and fresh water. Animals tend to eat more during the winter, since they burn calories simply by generating their own heat. Water should be checked and replaced frequently to ensure it doesn’t freeze and become useless to your pet.

Perhaps the easiest way to be sure your pets and small animals remain safe during frigid conditions is to just bring them inside your home. Pets that aren’t housebroken can be sheltered in a basement or another area where cleanup would be a simple matter.

Dogs, whether they live indoors or out, require some special care during winter, according to the ASPCA. They should be toweled dry when returning indoors, and their paws and belly should be cleaned and dried to remove dampness, salt and other ice-melting chemicals from their skin and fur.

As a rule of thumb, remember that if it is too cold for you to be outside for any length of time, it is also too cold for your pets to remain safely outdoors. And if you see or know of a neglected animal, report it to your local police or humane agency. It would be the right and decent thing to do.