How Cold is Too Cold
February 12, 2009
Heaters are on and blankets seem to have taken over our homes as
we bundle up to wait out the winter season. Luckily, we are able to
add more layers or turn up the thermostat if we start to feel
uncomfortably cold. Our outdoor pets and livestock are not so
fortunate, so it is our responsibility to make sure they have
adequate shelter from the harsh weather and temperatures.
"Animals should be able to get out of the elements," notes Dr.
M.A. Crist, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M
University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
"Determining what temperature is too cold for your pet can
depend on many different factors, from fur thickness and length to
body mass. This makes it hard to determine an exact temperature
that could be dangerous to your pet's health," explains Crist.
"However, it is clinically accepted that indoor pets that are not
acclimated to cold weather should not be left outside when the
average daily temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Cats,
even if acclimated to outdoor temperatures should always have
access to warm shelters. Kittens, cats advanced in age, or sick
should never be kept outdoors when the temperature is below 45
If animals are kept outdoors during winter weather Dr. Crist
recommends making sure the animal has a well insulated structure
that is large enough to allow the animal to curl up and maintain
its body heat.
"The dog house or structure should contain a wind-block to
protect it from northern winter blasts," advises Crist. "Outdoor
pets in colder climates should have an outdoor rated heating pad.
Also, adding blankets or dry straw in the structure can give the
animal a place to bed down and keep warm. Just make sure the
bedding stays clean and dry and remember to change it out
Along with a well insulated structure, animals kept outside need
plenty of fresh unfrozen water. Heated water buckets are available
to make sure your animals stay hydrated.
"During the winter months outdoor pets need a significant number
of calories to help keep them warm," adds Crist. "This increase in
caloric intake needs to be maintained throughout the season. Food
is the fuel our animals need to maintain their body heat."
Sweaters can also help to keep pets warm; however there are a
few guidelines that need to be followed to ensure your animals
"It is important to make sure the article of clothing fits the
animal correctly," notes Crist. "The sweater should not be large
enough to hang loosely or produce gaps that can prevent the animal
from keeping warm. On the other hand, you do not want a sweater
that is too tight and can cause circulation problems or irritation
to the animal's skin."
If you choose to provide your pet with clothing it is important
to remember to never leave the animal unattended.
"Pet's clothing can get caught on numerous things outside and
that can injure the animal," explains Crist. "Another worry is that
the pet might catch the sweater on something and pull it off, which
means the animal will again be unprotected against the cold."
Crist also suggests a few other guidelines that can help protect
your pet from harm this winter:
- Before getting into and starting your vehicle, thump the hood
of the car with your hand to make sure a cat seeking refuge from
the cold has not crawled up into the engine.
- If you are using antifreeze be careful to clean up any spills.
Pets like the taste of antifreeze and it is deadly if ingested,
even in very small amounts.
- Products used to help ice melt can be very irritating to the
skin and mouth. These products can cause your pet to drool and
- The use of poison increases in the winter because rats, mice,
and other small creatures are often trying to invade our homes to
seek shelter during the winter. If you are using poisons around the
house make sure they are inaccessible to your pet.
If your pet ingests any type of poison and you need assistance,
or you are unsure if a product is safe for use around your animal,
talk with your veterinarian. Helpful information can also be found
in the pet care section of The American Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals website, www.aspca.org.
With the temperature dropping and an abundance of hazardous
materials in use, winter weather means it's time to take extra
precautions to ensure the safety of you, your family, and your four
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