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Dogs and cats who live most if not all of their lives outdoors may have the fur and physique to better withstand the elements than their human owners, but that doesn’t relieve pet owners of a responsibility to make sure the domesticated animals are comfortable and cared for through the winter.

The necessities don’t change, according to St. Mary’s animal control officers, and can require even more attention during cold weather.

“Water is just as necessary in the winter as it is in the summer,” Tony Malaspina, animal control supervisor, said at his office in Leonardtown. “They sell heated water bowls, and a system that will run off your [garden] hose,” he said. “Or just keep an eye on it, and change it every few hours, as needed.”

Pets also need a shelter suited to the season.

“The house should be in good condition, free of cracks, [and] it needs to be a couple inches off the ground,” Malaspina said.

The gap serves a purpose, animal control officer Amanda Whipkey said, as it “insulates it from the cold ground.”

Malaspina said the shelter also should have “proper bedding, wood chips [or] blankets, something of that nature. Bedding should be cleaned and replaced as needed.”

Dogs will track snow and mud into their shelter, he said, so “bedding is going to get wet. Bedding needs to be kept dry if it’s going to do its job.”

A metal or plastic animal shelter needs a lining, so the pet is not lying on the bare surface, Malaspina said.

“Most of the time we recommend getting carpet scraps [or] samples,” he said. “They can throw [worn ones] away, and get another piece.”

Pets should not be left in cars, Malaspina said, because an enclosed vehicle can be every bit as much of a refrigerator in winter as it can be an oven during the summer.

And, yes, cats sometimes do seek heat by climbing up into the engine blocks of motor vehicles, according to the animal control officers.

“When you come out to go somewhere, make sure that the cat isn’t underneath the hood,” Malaspina said. “We have had some that needed medical attention.”

Whipkey recalled a man driving up to the county agency’s office in Leonardtown last year in a sedan, with a cat that wouldn’t come out.

“They heard it meowing when they were out on the road, so they just drove in,” she said. “They had to jack the car up, ... to get the cat out. It was afraid.”

The animal control officers said dogs and cats that go outside can sometimes walk on rock salt used to melt ice, and that the salt can irritate the pets’ paws, and their stomach lining if they lick their paws.

“Clean their paws,” Whipkey advised.

The animal control office in Leonardtown collects and gives away bedding materials for pets’ shelters.

“We will accept any donation for bedding, as long as it’s clean,” Malaspina said.

For more information, call 301-475-8018.

jwharton@somdnews.com