Pet safety and cold weather

As the wind, rain, and snow buffet your home in winter, you throw another log on the fire and dish up warm soup. But what about your outdoor pets? Left without proper shelter, they could become ill or even die. For animals you are unable to bring into your house, here are some tips to make the winter more bearable for them.

Provide a warm place to sleep

For dogs – Long-haired dogs like Huskies and Samoyeds tolerate cold better than others but even they need shelter. If you can’t bring your dog into the house, give him access to a garage or barn. A dog house with a heating lamp is another alternative but make sure the lamp is especially designed for use with animals as other kinds can be dangerous to your pet.

If you choose a dog house, make sure it is free from drafts as wind-chill can increase the threat of already cold temperatures. The house should be large enough that the dog can turn around but small enough to hold its body heat. A raised floor covered with cedar shavings or straw is best, and the doorway needs to be covered with a waterproof flap. Give your dog a bed that has layers he can snuggle into. Older and arthritic dogs need extra care.

For cats – Cats, especially feral ones, may not use the spot you choose for them, but every effort should be made to provide a warm bed out of the weather. Put food and water nearby and accustom the cat to using the area before cold weather strikes. Outdoor cats can fall prey to nighttime predators such as owls, coyotes, or other cats.

Make sure the bed is in a safe spot. A special safety note for animals sleeping in a garage. Make sure there are no antifreeze spills on the floor (deadly) and that the garage is safe from carbon monoxide poisoning such as from a car that has been allowed to idle. Also, check to make sure the cat hasn’t crawled up into the wheel or engine area before you start the car.

For rabbits – Cover the rabbit hutch with waterproof plastic. You may want to drape blankets over it as well. Put extra bedding material in it so the rabbits can burrow and make a warm place to lie.

For chickens and turkeys – Domestic fowl should have a weatherized coop to go into at night that is insulated against wind and rain. Provide extra nesting material and install a brood light if appropriate. Waterfowl may also learn to use a warm coop at night but they may prefer shrubbery alongside a pond. Be vigilant in checking the pond for ice and make sure that no bird has gotten stuck during the night.

For larger animals – Horses, cows, goats, and sheep should all have access to a barn or loafing shed. Having more than one animal helps them to keep warm also.

Provide extra food

Whether it’s the herding dog rounding up the sheep or the horse that goes on a winter trail ride, every animal out in the cold burns more calories. Grass-grazing domestic animals need extra hay in cold weather as the grass may be under ice or snow. Warm up their food as well. Mix dog kibble with warm water. Feed pet livestock warm mash.

Provide fresh water

Water can freeze rapidly in subzero temperatures. Either provide a bobbing device that keeps the surface broken up or make sure the water bowl is in a warm area. You should check it several times a day as animals can die of dehydration in winter as well as in summer.

Check your animal’s feet – Cats and dogs that scamper over the snow may get snow or ice stuck between their toes. A dog that walks on streets or sidewalks treated with salt should wear booties and have his feet cleaned after every walk. Pay careful attention to the hooves of horses as they can pick up ice as well.

Companionship – In the summertime, outdoor dogs and even feral cats may keep you company as you work on the farm or in the garden. Then suddenly, winter comes and you’re inside and they’re left alone. Make sure to spend some time with them each day in the winter whether it’s doing chores in the barn or going on a walk through the woods.

While bringing pets inside in the winter is the best option, with vigilant care, those who must be outside can be made more comfortable through the cold months.