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Importance of Protecting Animals in Cold Temperatures

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February 7, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about the importance of protecting animals in cold temperatures. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Kimberly [Woodruff 00:00:18], Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine Assistant Clinical Professor and the Director of the Shelter Medicine Program.

Kimberly we often don't think about cold weather here in Mississippi, because mainly we have to worry about heat waves. We do know though that it can happen here in Mississippi, and when animals are left outside in the cold what can happen to them?

Kimberly Woodruff: All right, well there's several things we worry about when it gets extremely cold for animals. One of those would be just hypothermia. The animals get too cold and that's dangerous for them. And there are other things that are dangerous for them as well. For instance, antifreeze is very toxic to cats and dogs, but it tastes really good to them, and so if they can get to it they will. And that can be a deadly thing for them. Also, their water supplies freeze and so if they don't have access to clean water that can be a dangerous thing for them.

Also, our cars are really warm after we drive them all over the place, to and from work, and so small animals especially cats and raccoons and things like that are drawn to those warm areas. And so, they can get into those motors, and we won't realize it when we go to start our car. So, we can see some seriously injured or even killed animals because of that.

Amy Myers: That's very true. And what temperatures ... is there a certain temperature we need to worry about?

Kimberly Woodruff: You know, there's really not a set temperature. It kind of depends on the breed of the animal. For instance, there are dogs that are bred to survive very well in extremely cold weather. You know, Huskies and Great Pyrenees and things like that, and they're very comfortable outside when it's cold. And then there are animals that are bred to be inside on our couches in front of the fire, Chihuahuas and animals with really short hair, and they don't do very well outside at all.

And so, a lot of it is watching the actions of your animal, and if they're shivering or if they're curled up in a tight ball or something like that, then it may indicate that they're uncomfortable outside.

Amy Myers: All right. So, short-haired animals ... would Pit Bulls be one of those that you can't leave outside?

Kimberly Woodruff: Certainly. Yes. Any animal that has just really short or fine hair doesn't handle the cold very well.

Amy Myers: Okay. So, what are some cheap and easy and fast ways that we can create shelter outside for our pets in case we want to leave them outside?

Kimberly Woodruff: Well, if you already have a dog house or something like that, certainly that works great. And you can make it even more comfortable by hay or wood shavings, you wanna stay away from cedar shavings, but pine is fine. If you don't have something like that you can create ... especially for outside cats just by using something like a big Rubbermaid container and line it with blankets and things that are warm. Face it away from the North and just provide them with a small hole to enter that way.

Amy Myers: Okay. And make sure that it's up off the ground so that it's not cold.

Kimberly Woodruff: Yeah. It needs to stay dry and warm, so anything you can do to get it up off the ground a little bit, out of the wind.

Amy Myers: So, if you have a dog house or something it doesn't really work if there's water going into the doghouse or anything like that.

What about heat lamps?

Kimberly Woodruff: Heat lamps are a good source of heat obviously, but they can be really dangerous as well, so if you're gonna use them they have to be used very carefully. They need to be several feet off the ground because they can burn the surface of the animal. The animals need to have a way to get away from that, so a lot of times they're not gonna lay directly under it. They're gonna wanna lay close to it, enough to absorb some of the heat, but they don't wanna be directly under it. So they need plenty of space to get away from it. You also don't wanna use it in areas that are really dry. So if you are putting hay, or shavings, or something like that in an area where ... in a wooden dog house or something like that, those are fire hazards. So it's okay to use them, but you have to be very careful how you do it.

Amy Myers: And what about livestock?

Kimberly Woodruff: The biggest threat to livestock this time of year is really the freezing of their water source. So if they drink out of a pond or out of water troughs we need to make sure that the ice is broken every day. You can get floating heaters for water troughs, things that you just plug in, and it keeps the water warm enough that it won't freeze. And so make sure that they have enough water.

The other thing is just to make sure they have enough food. Our pastures in a lot of places aren't doing great this time of year. Some pastures are planted with grasses that thrive this time of year, and those animals do great, but if that's not the case then those animals may need to be supplemented with hay or additional grain.

Amy Myers: And what must we do if we see an animal that's left outside in the cold?

Kimberly Woodruff: So if you see an animal that you're concerned about, the best thing to do is call Animal Control, because they really have a very good idea of what is a dangerous temperature for an animal. And so they can assess that situation.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Kimberly [Woodruff 00:04:46], Assistant Clinical Professor. I'm Amy Taylor Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Animal & Dairy Science

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