Baby it’s cold outside!

Detroit Animal Control strongly urges that all pet owners allow their animals to be inside, especially during extreme weather. However, if people leave their pets outdoors for any length of time, they are required by Michigan state law to provide them with adequate food, water and shelter.

Adequate shelter for dogs, means a well-built, insulated, slant-roofed dog house. The inside should be just large enough for the dog to stand and to lie down comfortably. It should be slightly elevated from the ground for air circulation and the door should face away from prevailing winds and have a protective flap to eliminate drafts.

Clean, dry straw should be used for bedding instead of towels, rugs or blankets. These items absorb moisture and will freeze in frigid temperatures. Unheated garages or sheds, a doghouse that is too large or lacks straw, or dogs tied out to a porch, fence or deck with no shelter are not considered adequate. To report pets left outside without proper shelter in Detroit, residents can call the Detroit Animal Control Hotline at 313-922-DOGS (3647). 

Failing to provide proper provisions for pets can result in misdemeanor animal cruelty violations carrying a sentence of up to 93 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, community service, and loss of pet ownership for a specified amount of time.

  • When temperatures drop, pets should not be left outside for an extended length of time. Small or short-haired pets should be brought in when temperatures reach 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Larger breeds or thick-coated dogs may remain outside, with adequate shelter, to a temperature of zero.
  • Precipitation and wind chill should also be taken into account.
  • Cats should be kept indoors or at least brought into a warm, animal proofed garage or shed during severe weather.
  • Roaming cats often seek the warmth of car engines, so be sure to knock on the car hood or honk the horn before starting your car to startle them and give them a chance to escape.
  • Increase the amount of food by 10-20 percent for dogs left outside during the winter months. The extra calories are needed to help an animal to stay warm.
  • Regular access to clean, unfrozen water is also critical. Check drinking water frequently – every few hours – to ensure that it is unfrozen.
  • If an animal is cold to the touch, or his paws and ears are pale, he may be suffering from frostbite. Move the animal to a warmer area and contact your veterinarian immediately.


Frostbite begins when the dog’s body gets cold. The body automatically pulls blood from the extremities to the center of the body to stay warm. The dog’s ears, paws or tail can get so cold that ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage it. The tricky thing to remember about frostbite is that it’s not immediately obvious. Watch for signs of pale or grey skin; the skin may also turn hard and cold. As frostbitten areas warm, they can be extremely painful. Severely frostbitten skin will eventually turn black and slough off.

A second serious winter weather concern is hypothermia. This occurs when a dog spends too much time in the cold, gets wet in cold temperatures or when dogs with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold. In mild cases, the dog will shiver and her ears and feet may grow cold. As hypothermia progresses, she may show signs of depression, lethargy and weakness. As the condition worsens, her muscles will stiffen, her heart and breathing rates slow down, and she will not respond to stimuli. Severe hypothermia is life threatening.
Protecting your dog from frostbite and hypothermia is essential, so learn how to recognize the signs that your dog needs to come indoors to warm up.

Is your dog cold?
If it’s too cold for you to stand at the door without your coat, it’s probably too cold for your dog too, so pay attention to her behavior while she’s outdoors.
If you notice your dog whining, shivering, or appearing anxious, or she stops playing and seems to be looking for places to burrow, then it’s time to bring her in.