The polar vortex that blew through most of the United States at the end of January marked record low temperatures. It was dangerous for anyone to be outside longer than a few minutes. For anyone who lived outside, including members of the homeless community and stray animals, it quickly became deadly.
In Montana, one cat is extremely lucky to be alive. Fluffy was discovered buried in a snowbank. Her fur was matted with snow and ice and she was almost frozen. She was also unconscious and unresponsive.
Her owners rushed her to a veterinarian, who did everything in his power to save her.
But Fluffy’s temperature was so low, it wouldn’t even register on the thermometer. Her owners feared she was lost.
The internal temperature for a healthy cat is between 100 and 102 degrees. Fluffy’s was undetectable, which means that her temperature was below 90 degrees — a deadly diagnosis.
The vet staff immediately rushed to put her on an IV.
Then they set out trying every method they could to get her warmed up.
“She was essentially frozen,” said Andrea Dutter, executive director of the Animal Clinic of Kalispell. “They used a few different methods to raise her body temperature: warm water, hair dryers, heated towels that were rotated out. And finally, we put her in a heated kennel.”
After one night in the veterinary emergency room, Fluffy is healthy and safe once again.
Her owners aren’t sure how she got stuck in the snow. Veterinary staff says she had some injuries, so it may have been likely that she was hurt and couldn’t get out of the snow before succumbing to the cold. Thankfully, the three-year-old kitty is back home with her owners.
Cold weather can be deadly for anyone but it’s particularly concerning for animals, especially those owned by people who aren’t being careful. Dogs often are injured or killed by freezing temperatures when they are left chained in yards. Even dogs with thick fur and can better tolerate cold temperatures — like German shepherds and Huskies — can succumb to the deadly cold.
Many people think that cats and dogs can withstand the cold better than humans but it’s not exactly true.
They get hypothermia and frostbite just like we do. In elderly or sick animals, cold can also exacerbate already-present illnesses like arthritis.
The best bet for your pets is to keep them in the house when temperatures drop. But what should you do if you see an animal left outside or find one frozen in the snow?
In 2018, rescue workers were saddened by people leaving animals to freeze to death in negative temperatures.
“We’re finding dogs dead in dog houses and strays curled up deceased in fields,” said Dog Rescue founder Kristina Millman-Rinaldi. “It’s maddening, sad, and discouraging.”
Experts urge people to keep an eye out for animals that are being kept outside by their owners.
If you suspect one of your neighbors is leaving their animal outside, you should contact the police. They might handle the situation themselves or help you contact a local humane society or shelter.
“It is best to be prepared to provide law enforcement with specific details, including the type of animal involved, as well as exactly when and where you observed the animal,” said Stacy Wolf, senior vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ anti-cruelty group.
If you find an animal that you think may have hypothermia, you should take immediate steps to warm it — but carefully.
Put the animal in a warm place and dry it off with towels or a hair dryer, holding it about a foot from their body. Throw a blanket in the dryer for a few minutes to warm it and wrap it around the cat or dog. It’s also a good idea to apply hot water bottles against the animal’s belly, but make sure they’re wrapped in cloth so the animal isn’t burned.
Check the animal’s temperature intermittently. If it falls below 95 degrees, head to an emergency veterinarian right away.
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