Extreme Cold and Your Pets

Ice storms are battering the Northeast, while the West and Midwest are now experiencing record cold due to an Arctic front. In my city, a record-breaking low was recorded yesterday, with temperatures of -15 degrees Fahrenheit at 6:00 PM. Pet owners must take extra steps to protect their pets when extreme temperatures strike.

Dogs and Extreme Cold

Some dogs are happy outdoors in most weather, but even the most thick-coated, cold loving Northern breed should be brought indoors when the mercury falls below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Most dogs need to come in when the temperature is below freezing for extended periods.

Potty breaks and walks in extreme cold temperatures should last no more than twenty minutes. Dogs that stay outdoors longer risk frostbite, skin abrasions due to balled ice between paw pads, and respiratory illness. If your dog bounces off the walls without outdoor play sessions, trying playing games with your dog indoors to use up energy and focus his attention on an activity directed by you.

If it is a matter of life or death that your dog must stay outside in extreme cold, provide an insulated doghouse with lots of bedding, and preferably a heated blanket.  A heated water bowl to keep water from freezing is also a must-have. Be aware, however, that no matter the circumstances, in some areas your dog may be seized if it is left outdoors in extreme cold, particularly if its water has frozen over.  This could even lead to charges of animal cruelty brought against the person who failed to bring the dog indoors when temperatures dropped.

Cats and Extreme Cold

Cats, like dogs, should stay inside in extreme cold. If your cat is an indoor cat already, no changes need to be made. Just be prepared for her to spend lots of time at the window staring at the funny white stuff on the ground outside.

If your cat is used to going in and out, provide a litterbox for elimination in extremely cold weather, and keep her inside whether she meows at the door or not. A cat that goes outdoors in very cold weather may hide and be difficult to find again, meaning it’s tough to enforce the twenty minute rule so as to avoid frostbite and other harm. Keep indoor/outdoor cats inside in the cold, and consider keeping cats in all the time. Indoor cats live longer and are just as happy as cats with access to the outdoors.

If you’ve been feeding feral cats and are concerned about them in the cold, provide a water dish that is heated so as not to freeze over. You should also put out some food if you know the cats will come to eat it. High-fat foods help cats stay warm in bad weather. If you know where the cats sleep, consider buying some straw to provide insulation for the area, or possibly purchasing a large heated dog bed and putting it near where strays stay. Be cautious about making sudden changes to a feral cat’s sleeping area, however. It may panic and choose to find somewhere else to stay, leading it to remain exposed to extreme cold for longer than is safe.

Horses and Extreme Cold

Some horses with thick winter coats, free choice grass hay, and maybe some fatty grain, can weather even extremely cold temperatures without harm, so long as the weather is dry. If the forecast calls for snow as well as temperatures below zero, even the shaggiest horses should wear a medium-weight, waterproof blanket. All the hair in the world does no good if snow melts and refreezes on a horse’s body.

Stabled horses should dress according to the indoor temperature and their level of coat. A horse whose summer coat has been artificially prolonged with lights and blanketing may need many layers, for example a lycra or fleece blanket liner, lycra hood, heavy stable blanket, heavy hood, and a waterproof sheet on top for turnout periods. The same goes for clipped horses. Stabled horses with a thick winter coat may be able to get away with wearing just a heavy stable blanket and possibly a fleece liner.

All horses should get extra food and moderate exercise in extreme cold. Provide as much grass hay as horses will eat, unless a particular animal is prone to laminitis when extra food is offered. Avoid heavy workouts that cause sweating, but provide an opportunity to run outdoors each day, so as to prevent joints from stiffening in the cold.

Caged Pets and Extreme Cold

Indoor, caged pets should not be affected by outdoor temperatures, but take extra precautions to keep them safe regardless. Check your home for drafts and stopper any that you find in rooms where your pets live. Ensure that all caged pets have ample bedding and food. Keep a close eye on caged pets for respiratory illness in very cold weather. The drafts from people entering and leaving a house when it is very cold outside may promote respiratory infection.

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  1. HART (1-800-HART)
    | Reply

    It’s much colder up here .. we’ve been averaging about -25c for about a week now, with wind chill that makes it “feel” like -40c (which is -40F) …

    The cold sure has affected our little Papillon dogs 🙁

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