LSU School of Veterinary Medicine give tips on how to protect outdoor pets and horses against extreme cold

Published 12:50 pm Monday, January 15, 2024

Help keep your pet safe during the colder months by doing the following:

  • Don’t leave pets outdoors when the temperature drops.
  • Outdoor pets use more energy to keep warm so they will need more food when it’s cold. Routinely check your pet’s water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen.
  • If your dog stays outside, provide a doghouse with a raised floor that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in body heat. Cover the floor with a blanket (but only if the dog will not eat it) or maybe straw or wood shavings if available and make sure the door is turned to face away from the wind.
  • If you’re feeding homeless cats, be sure to provide an insulated shelter for them.
  • Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife that may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
  • Antifreeze has a sweet taste that can attract animals, but it is toxic to them. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze and other household chemicals out of reach.

Pets exposed to temperatures in the low teens or single digits for prolonged periods can get frostbite on their feet or the tips of their ears (the skin will turn darker in color). Another symptom to be watchful for is lethargy or weakness. If you feel that your pet has been adversely affected by the cold and requires medical care, please contact your veterinarian.

Horses are great at staying warm since they have many metabolic processes that generate heat or allow them to conserve heat. Their digestive processes generate a lot of heat and their haircoat can “puff-up” (this is known as piloerection) to further insulate them. Horses are actually better at staying warm in winter than staying cool in summer.

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Precautions that can be taken to protect horses from harsh winter weather:

  • Ensure that the horses have water, hay and shelter 24/7 (if they prefer to remain outside, provide them with an option to have some sort of protection from wind and rain);
  • Allow them to move around (this generates heat); and
  • If they are very old, very young, sick, too skinny, etc. and unable to thermoregulate, then they may need to be stalled and/or blanketed, along with all of the other precautions listed above.

The most important precaution is to provide an unfrozen, clean water source on a constant basis; otherwise, the horse could colic.