Frequently Asked Questions

Question

Q

How can I keep my pet safe in the dipping outdoor temperatures?

Answer(s)

A

Chilling winter temperatures can be harmful and even deadly for domestic animals. To keep pets safe this time of year, watch their behavior closely and be mindful of their physical needs. Consider these tips.

  • Watch pets’ behavior. If they are shivering, alternately lifting feet or their body is in a hunched position, they are cold and need to be housed where it is warm. Even if they are frolicking or stretched comfortably in the sun, be aware that winter conditions can quickly change and become dangerous to pets. During severe winter storms or cold periods, observe and check on outside pets often. Bring them into a garage or other partially heated room if necessary for a period of time. Check the area closely, however, so that dangerous items are out of their reach.

  • Be mindful of the tolerance level of your pet. Each breed acclimates differently to winter weather. Husky and Samoyed dogs have a thick undercoat that keeps them warm in severe weather. Labradors have a much shorter coat, but it is well designed for both cold and water. These dogs also form an extra thick layer of fat that acts as insulation. Even on the coldest days, they will still jump into open water for a swim. However, all animals can run into danger with the combination of cold temperatures and wetness, and owners should be watchful of this.

  • Decide early if your pet will be kept indoors or outdoors. Since acclimation is the key to their comfort, you should decide in the fall where they will be kept. If they are exposed to cold weather as the temperatures change in the fall, their body will respond with increased haircoat growth and additional body fat. The worst scenario for these animals is to be kept indoors during the fall, then get sent outdoors full time when it becomes bitter cold. Their bodies need time to acclimate. The opposite of this is also true. It is almost as bad for owners to get pets acclimated to the cold, then suddenly bring them inside a 75 degree home full time. Drastic changes can be a hardship for animals. Some short-haired, thin-skinned animals are not suited for outdoor winter living, no matter how much acclimation is provided. They should be kept indoors since these animals usually adapt much better to hot weather.

  • Keep cats safe. Cats are best kept indoors in winter. However, if they need to be kept outside, provide a bed for them where they are protected from wind, rain, snow and other animals. Most cats can acclimate well to the outdoors if they are provided with some form of protection. Also be aware of two hazards for cats in the winter: antifreeze and car radiator fans. Most antifreeze used in car radiators is toxic to animals if ingested. It also has a sweet taste, so if it drips onto the garage floor, cats will readily drink it and can be fatally poisoned. The car radiator fan is a hazard since cats will often climb up into the auto motor-mount area and stay there, enjoying the warmth. The cat may be injured if it is sitting by the radiator fan when the car is started.

  • Be mindful of indoor dogs’ needs. Provide a sweater for indoor dogs when they go outdoors for long periods of time. When temperatures are cold, consider setting a timer as a reminder to let them back inside if you are not with them. Periodic outdoor exercise is beneficial to dogs, but be aware of their behavior to determine the time and distance they can endure cold weather conditions. Protect your dog with a fence or by keeping it on a leash.

  • Keep outdoor dogs safe. Provide some type of housing to protect outdoor dogs from rain, snow and cold. An insulated dog house is beneficial in very cold weather, but it must be constructed so the dog cannot chew through to the insulation and ingest it. The dog house should be large enough to allow the dog comfort as it gets in and out and as it lays or sits in the house. It should also be small enough that it is warmed by the dog’s body heat. There must be an adequate bedding of straw, sawdust, shavings or blankets to provide insulation from the undersurface, since cement acts as a conductor and draws body heat away. The doorway should be covered with a flap of thick fabric or plastic to allow the dog to enter and exit while still keeping the wind out. The entrance should be turned away from prevailing wind. Check the house often for dryness, as the dog may carry water in on its haircoat and soak the inside of the house. If the dog is not using the house, it may be a signal that something is wrong and it is more uncomfortable inside than out.

  • Regularly provide water, and be sure it does not get frozen solid. Keep electrical cords where dogs cannot get to them, since they can easily chew through the cords and become electrocuted. It is generally best not to use a light or heat lamp to warm the dog house, due to risk of fire or electrocution.

  • Outdoor dogs need extra energy in the winter. One way to provide this is by adding one to two tablespoons of fat to a balanced dog food diet each day. Bacon fat drippings are especially good since they contain the essential fatty acids needed for skin health. Be aware, however, that some dogs may have food allergies. During the winter, a small amount of extra fat cover is an important insulator and the extra energy is needed to maintain body heat in the cold.

Posted on 18 Jul 2006

Clell Bagley
Extension vetrinarian

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