Protecting Pets from Winter Cold
Posted January 13, 2011
There are many precautions people take when the cold weather
rushes in for the winter. Pets can also be heavily affected by the
drop in temperatures and so it is important to take note of these
Prior to the first freeze, schedule an appointment with your
veterinarian for a checkup. You need to be aware of the existing
illnesses your pet has; some chronic illnesses can worsen in the
If you have small pets it is best to keep them in a warm
shelter, like your house, for nights below freezing. As a
precaution it is important to do a home inspection prior to the
winter months, because your furnace can leak carbon monoxide which
can be a silent killer for you and your pets. It is also necessary
to check windows and door panes for drafts which can suck out the
warm air and bring in the cold winter air.
If your pet does stay outside check it's paws for sharp ice or
embedded snow which can lead to frostbite and further damage.
If your animals can not be brought inside due to their size Dr.
Leslie Easterwood, clinical assistant professor in equine medicine
at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine &
Biomedical Sciences (CVM) explains ways your animal can be
protected from the cold temperatures.
"Herd animals tend to congregate together to conserve body heat,
and will generally protect the young ones in the center," said
Easterwood. "If it is not wet, and merely cold, then all they
should need is a wind break."
"Their natural winter coat traps air against the skin when it
fluffs up, and this insulates them," notes Easterwood. "Their
natural fat cover also helps to add insulation as well."
"Cold, wet weather calls for some type of covered protection if
at all possible," said Easterwood. "They will also need additional
roughage or hay in order to produce their own body heat."
When providing extra hay for your animals to stay warm make sure
the hay is fresh. According to Easterwood, "using old hay for
bedding can pose problems with varmints, mold, inhaled allergens,
parasites, and many more."
Most large animals should stay outside, unless they are newborns
or debilitated animals. Most other large animals can withstand the
coldest of temperatures.
"Babies are most adapted to being born in the spring, when
temperatures are milder," explains Easterwood. "Again, as long as
they have a wind break and some cover from the rain (even if it is
a shed with no sides) than they will be fine."
When the temperature drops, it is vital to keep your animals
hydrated. Proper hydration helps animals regulate their body
temperature. Dehydration can cause major health problems for
animals in the cold.
"One of the most frequently encountered medical problems for
horses related to the cold weather is impaction colic due to a
decreased consumption of water," explains Easterwood. "Horses do
not like to drink cold water, and we have studies to prove that
they will drink more water if it is warmed. For this reason they
use bucket warmers up north in order to prevent the water from
freezing, and to keep it warm to encourage increased consumption.
In most cases we do not have to go to those measures here in Texas,
but some individual horses who are very opposed to cold water would
benefit from those extra measures."
"Some owners will top-dress their grain with oral electrolyte
powder to encourage their horses to drink more in the winter,"
notes Easterwood. "Keeping track of water consumption for their
horse can give them a heads-up to impending problems if they notice
During the winter months keep a cautious eye on your animals,
because with your help they will be able to withstand the cold
"Watching your pets and getting to know their individual
behaviors, body conditions, and intake habits can be very helpful
in maintaining a healthy animal through the winter," says
Easterwood. "Also it is extremely important to maintain a good
relationship with your veterinarians so that they can help with any
problems along the way."
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