‘Polar vortex’ – two words which are, at the time of writing, sending a deep chill through many Americans, and disrupting their day-to-day lives on an unprecedented scale.
And for those of us in the pet transportation business, along with many others who really care about animals, the current icy spell is presenting a heap of challenges.
As if the cold itself wasn’t bad enough too, forecasters are saying that this cold snap could very soon be replaced by unseasonable warm conditions.
So in this article, we’re going to look at the twin challenges of keeping our pets safe and comfortable in the bitter cold, and then making a quick transition to the more temperate weather we’re told is on the way.
What Is The Polar Vortex?
According to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, it’s “a band of strong winds, high up in the atmosphere that keeps bitterly cold air locked around the Arctic region.”
So far, so unremarkable. But it’s when that vortex shifts further south and lands over parts of the U.S., some of them among the most densely populated, that it spells trouble.
Parts of the country have been here before, of course. Back in 2014 there was a similar spell of frigid weather which first gave rise to use of the term ‘polar vortex’.
To put the recent conditions into context, on Wednesday, January 30, in Chicago the mercury only got to 10 degrees Fahrenheit lower than in Antarctica, and the forecast for the following day showed the maximum temperature would reach no higher than -21 degrees C (-5.8oF).
What Are The Risks To Pets Of This Cold Stuff?
We’re so used to hearing messages urging us to keep our pets out of any extreme heat, that it probably doesn’t occur to many of us that when the temperature heads south, they can suffer too.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (A.V.M.A.), the foremost authority on animal health and welfare, has published an extensive 16-point guide to looking out for dogs’ or cats’ safety in harsh winter weather. It includes the following sound tips:
- If they haven’t been seen already, get your pet booked in with your veterinarian for its regular wellness exam. This will highlight problems, such as arthritis, which will be worsened by cold weather.
- Consider shortening the length of their regular walks. Thick snow and ice brings various hazards for dogs. If they’re elderly, they might slip and fall more easily, but the chances of them contracting any medical condition they may be prone to is greatly increased the longer they stay out in the cold.
- Don’t take them outside if it isn’t necessary. The AVMA reminds us that it can be a myth that a dog or cat’s long hair gives them greater protection from the cold. While certain breeds are genetically designed to ward off severe conditions, many are vulnerable to hypothermia when the mercury dips down low.
- Check your vehicle before starting the engine. Lots of cats, in particular, take to hiding under a car, or even beneath the hood, when looking for a warm place. So before taking that journey and starting the engine, bang on the hood so any sheltering pets are warned.
- Layer them up. A dog coat or sweater might be off limits to you during regular weather, but these can do a valuable job in keeping particularly short-haired pets from catching a chill through getting wet.
- Go on paw patrol. There can be lots of hidden dangers to a dog of walking on ice. The frozen stuff can gather between their paw pads – especially if their hair there tends to be long. To help prevent this, get that part of their coat closely clipped. Then check their paws after every walk for any accumulation of ice or foreign objects.
- Don’t let them drink dubious liquids. You just don’t know what might be in those ice puddles and lying water which they often encounter – many dangerous anti-freezes and similar compounds have little obvious colour, and it might not be enough to put your dog off; that tempting-looking liquid could be deadly!
- Feed them well, and regularly. But don’t let them overeat. Storing up some ‘winter bulk’ can be dangerous – you just need to keep your pet’s weight within its healthy range. But any pet who is kept outdoors will need more calories in winter to provide the body heat they need.
Don’t Think Trouble’s Over Once the Freeze Is
As soon as it’s arrived, a cold spell can be over. And a rapid thaw can bring just as many dangers as the ice and cold themselves.
First and foremost, of course, you need to be aware that any ice-covered area hides plenty of risks – not just the slippery top surface.
For starters, ice can hide any number of obstacles which might normally be in plain sight. Curb edges are a particular menace. You might think that you know the sidewalks in the area like the proverbial back of your hand – but they’re soon hidden under a layer of snow, meaning there’s plenty of potential for trip accidents while out walking with your dog.
As loads of folks will already know, you can never really tell how thick any layer of ice actually is. Worse still is that that inviting layer of smoothness is like a magnet to many dogs, just begging to be run across and played on.
But a man in Trenton, NJ sadly found out the dangers for himself, after being left fighting for his life while chasing his dog, which had strayed onto a frozen canal.
We found a handful of reports of similar incidents this week just with a quick Google search – and you can be sure that there’ll have been others which didn’t get the same attention.
This is a real and clear danger – but what else should you and your pets be looking out for in the thaw? We’ll explore the hazards below:
When The Thaw Bites
Once the sun gets to work on those ice-covered surfaces, you’re faced with a whole new set of potential problems.
Not least that low sun itself – this is a time of year when it doesn’t reach very high in the sky.
You also need to be aware that your dog will likely still need to be wrapped up warm when you take them for their walks.
Rising water levels, swelled by large volumes of ice thaw, present a major hazard, making areas where you might regularly walk with your dog potentially more difficult to access. So you’ll need to plan your walk routes to avoid any currently ice-covered waterways or the paths alongside them.
This just scratches the surface of the potential problems you could face. But one thing’s for sure – for as long as the weather allows them, there’s a small army of dedicated folks who are taking to our roads every day, continuing to meet the nation’s needs for safe, competitively-priced pet transportation.
So if your travel plans haven’t yet been scuppered by snow or ice, and you’re headed off to spend some time at a winter retreat, you can take the hassle out of getting your pets to join you, by taking a look at Citizenshippr.com.
Weather Fluctuations ‘The New Normal’
As the freeze looked set to give way to warmer weather, at least in parts, one Waterway Agency official in Chicago sounded an alert suggesting that the see-sawing weather conditions some regions have seen are likely becoming “the new normal”.
And while the ground remains so frozen, there’s nowhere for much of the water which flows off the thawing ice to go – meaning you’ll likely encounter lots of major puddles when out taking Rover walkies for a while yet.
The advice, then, is to watch your step, and not to take your dog across any area of ground where you’re not sure what’s usually underneath.
And once a thaw does set in, then the ground will likely stay unstable for a good while. So it seems appropriate to round off this article with the words of famous T.V. cop Sgt. Phil Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues. You might remember that he signed off his daily briefings to his officers with the words: “Let’s be careful out there”.
For millions of pet owners who have been battling the effects of severe weather for all of 2019 so far, there couldn’t be any wiser words spoken.