Cold weather management for animals

Horse owners generally do a good job of blanketing their animals but that practice alone does not eliminate the need for continued surveillance. Large animals are not immune to the wrath of the winter’s chill and perhaps the greatest risk lies in the danger of frostbite. No extremity of any animal is so constructed as to avoid the extremes of temperature seen so far this winter, especially in the Upper Midwest and East. The tips of ears are especially prone to damage if the periods of exposure are too long as are the tips of their tails and hooves.

For reasons unclear, the mindset of farmers is that the winter coat of mature farm animals provides adequate protection from the elements. Indeed it helps but not keeping an eye on those areas of the body where circulation is poor may lead to some uncomfortable problems, frozen teats being a prime example.

Dairy calves housed in hutches should have extra bedding to insure a reasonable level of comfort and experts in Wisconsin are advocating straw as the best bedding to use. Blanketing young calves will go a long ways in adding to the comfort of the very young. Mature cattle housed in freestall barns can generate a lot of body heat that makes for a environment that insures that the temperature in that setting is within acceptable limits. Protection from high, frigid winds should be high on the list of priorities for all animal caretakers, as should be access to water that is checked regularly for freezing. Most commercial dairies have heating elements that insure that the water supply does not freeze but they must be checked regularly to be sure that they are functioning properly. For those animals who may not have access to this type of water supply it becomes even more important to be certain that their water supply is not frozen.

As with members of the human family who work out-of-doors in frigid weather the animals need for extra energy increases during those periods when the polar vortex comes roaring down from the far north. Again calves are particularly in need of high energy supplementation to be certain that they can maintain their normal body temperature. Calves have very little or no body fat to draw on when stressed by cold weather so it is the responsibility of their providers to make sure that their needs are met. Spot checking the body temperature of these animals is one way to insure that they are not on the verge of hypothermia.

Winter is no less a problem for pets than it is for their larger companions out in the barnyard and for some maybe even more so. One of the more dramatic situations encountered during the winter months is that involving the outside cat who finds warmth on the engine block of a car and curls up for a nap. The the owner then appears, gets into the vehicle, starts it up and the startled cat jumps into the fan or becomes entangled in the fan belt. Remember when there is any likelihood of this scenario playing out in your garage to bang on the hood or blow the horn before starting the car, a precaution too easily forgotten.

All dogs, especially larger dogs, are natural explorers and investigators, their sensitive noses often taking them into uncharted territory which may include frozen ponds where the ice is thin.

Venturing out too far often results in an icy dip which may call in the local volunteer rescue squad bellying out on ladders to rescue the errant wanderer. The word is keep your dog off of ponds where the thickness of the ice is suspect or unknown. Above all if ever confronted with such a situation never attempt a rescue by yourself, let those properly trained do the job. The dog is better equipped to handle the situation that you are.

With winter comes a spike in the incidence of house fires, especially in times of economic uncertainty in many households where many families are struggling to find ways in which to keep warm. This gives rise to an increase in the use of space heaters which may be easily knocked over especially by larger dogs resulting in fires. Use of these heaters must be continually monitored to insure that they are not compromised in any way. Not only may tipping result in fires but simply rubbing against them may result in severe burns. Along with many other potential winter hazards, carbon monoxide detectors must be checked regularly to insure that they are in proper working order, CO2 can be as lethal to animals as it can to humans.

Some dogs because of size, temperament, preference or other factors may have to live outside during the winter. In these instances the doghouse should be elevated with a large amount of clean bedding like straw which is preferred to blankets because it holds in warm air and is less likely to freeze as blankets are prone to do. Insure that the ration is boosted to increase the caloric intake and that there is an good supply of fresh unfrozen water available at all times. Electrically heated water bowls are available.

Winters are not always easy but they are manageable if animal owners prepare for it in a systematic way and are willing to take the extra time required to insure that the few simple steps suggested are followed. Happy Spring!

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