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Importance of Protecting Animals in Cold Temperatures

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December 24, 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, Mississippi State University, College of Veterinarian 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 often, animals are left outside in the cold. What can happen to them?

Kimberly Woodruff: Right. Well, there are several things that 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. There are other things that are dangerous to 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. That can be a deadly, 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 animals, small animals, especially cats and raccoons and things like that, are drawn to those warm areas. 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. Is there a certain temperature we need to worry about?

Kimberly Woodruff: There's really not a set temperature. It kind of depends on the breed of animal. For instance, there are dogs that are bred to survive very well in extremely cold weathers, so Huskies and Great Pyrenees and things like that. 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. A lot of it is watching the actions of your animal. 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: 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. 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 doghouse or something like that, certainly that works great, and you can make it even more comfortable by hay or wood shavings. You want to stay away from cedar shavings, but pine is fine. If you don't have something like that, you can create it, especially for outside cats, just by using something like a big Rubbermaid container. 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. Make sure that it's up off the ground, so that it's not cold.

Kimberly Woodruff: Right, 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: Yes. So if you have a doghouse 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. If you're going to 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 it, so a lot of times, they're not going to lay directly under it. They're going to want to lay close to it, enough to absorb some of the heat, but they don't want to be directly under it. So, they need plenty of space to get away from it.

You also don't want to use it in areas that are really dry. So, if you're putting hay or shavings or something like that in an area where ... in a wooden doghouse or something like that, those are fire hazards. 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: Livestock, 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 that water is broken, that the ice is broken every day. You can get flowing heaters for water troughs, things that you just plug in and it keeps the water warm enough that it won't freeze, 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: What must we do if we see an animal that's left outside in the cold?

Kimberly Woodruff: 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, Assistant Clinical Professor. I'm Amy Taylor Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

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

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