Cold weather survival tips

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PITTSBURGH - The first winter storm of 2014 brought several inches of snow as well as frigid temperatures and strong, bone-chilling winds throughout Western Pennsylvania.

With the cold weather, come many concerns, including hypothermia, frostbite, keeping pets safe and how to keep vehicles in top-working condition when facing the elements.


Avoiding Hypothermia and Frostbite

Local hospitals are seeing more patients than usual thanks to the weather and Dr. Melanie Cheers of Allegheny General Hospital told WPXI hypothermia and frostbite are a concern.

"One thing that we always recommend is really staying away from alcohol as well when it's cold because it may make you feel warm and you don't protect yourself against the cold as much. We do see people that are intoxicated then end up hypothermic," said Cheers.

Doctors also give the following tips to stay warm during the cold weather:

  • If you have to go outside, doctors suggest wearing as many loose-fitting layers as possible to trap air between clothes and stay warmer.
  • Do not leave much skin exposed as it's easy to get frostbite in these cold conditions.
  • Children and the elderly need the most attention. The doctor suggests if your kids return home with wet clothing, remove it fast. If you have older neighbors, try doing outdoor chores for them if they need it.
  • Drink hot drinks like tea and hot cocoa to warm your core.

Car Care

John Lentz, owner of ATC Sales and Service in Pittsburgh gave WPXI’s Brandon Hudson several helpful tips on how to keep your car working during the cold weather.

"When it gets cold like this, your tire pressure gets out of whack. It is important to keep an eye on that stuff. Make sure your battery is charged up. Check all your fluids under the hood," said Lentz.

In addition, Lentz told motorists to consider the following tips when it comes to traveling in your vehicle this winter:

  • If you plan to start your car to warm it up, keep it running no more than 10 minutes.
  • Be sure to check the tread on your tires. One way to do this is to take a penny, turn it upside down and place it between the tread on the tires. If you are able to see Lincoln's head, it is time to get new tires.

Pet Safety

Another concern for many in these cold temperatures is the safety of their pets.

Animal Friends issued a warning urging pet owners to keep animals safe from hypothermia and frostbite during the cold weather.

Despite having fur coats, domesticated animals like dogs, cats and rabbits depend on humans for protection from the elements.

"The community should know that outdoor pets cannot withstand freezing temperatures. Animals have been known to die from exposure and for their own protection, they should be brought indoors immediately," said Kathy Hecker, humane investigations officer for Animal Friends.

Consider the following cold weather safety tips for pets:

  • Do not leave pets unattended when the temperature drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit)Low temperatures, winds and precipitation can lead to illness, hypothermia and death. Dogs, cats, rabbits or any domesticated pet can suffer from frostbite in a matter of minutes, mainly on feet, ears and tails.
  • Signs of hypothermia include: weak pulse, dilated pupils, decreased heart rate, extreme shivering, pale or blue mucus membranes, stupor and unconsciousness. If you believe your pet is suffering from hypothermia, call your veterinarian immediately.
  • The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth.
  • Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze out of reach.
  • Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
  • Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
  • If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type (small or short-haired), take them outdoors only long enough to relieve themselves. Puppies do not tolerate cold as well as adult dogs.
  • Feral and outdoor cats need to stay warm as well! Because blankets, towels and pillows can get wet and freeze, straw is the best insulation against the cold and weather.

Click here for a helpful step-by-step guide on how to build a feral cat house by Animal Friends.