by George Looby, DVM
Each year when the maples have dropped the last of their leaves the time arrives when we begin to look around our homesteads and begin the seasonal task of buttoning down for winter. It is an age-old ritual that never changes but as we check down the list of things to be done it is easy to slip and overlook one or more important tasks. High on the list should be insuring that all of the animals in our care are well provided for as winter approaches.
Insuring that that each animal has an adequate supply of water ranks high on the list of daily chores that must be done. Consideration should be given to using tank heaters if they are not already being used. The time saved by these units is difficult to measure but when one considers the time spent breaking up ice on a water tank the aggravation factor alone is cause for careful consideration of installing one. Once installed, they cannot be forgotten. Electricity and water are not a good combination making it necessary to have a voltmeter built in as part of the system to pick up on possible stray current. Almost all animals are very sensitive to electrical current and if that becomes a problem, water consumption will drop dramatically raising the potential for some serious digestive problems.
Many animals seem to tolerate cold weather extremely well especially those that have had the opportunity to grow a good winter coat. There was a very early seasonal drop in the temperature in the Dakotas a few years ago where cattle had not had the opportunity to prepare for a bitterly cold outbreak that struck which resulted in a high mortality rate in the herds in that region. Under normal (if indeed there is such a thing) conditions cattle especially have the ability to adapt quite well.
Having a run-in shed or shelter with good dry bedding would seem to offer the animals the opportunity to make a choice as to which environment they might choose to be in. Such shelters should not be over built, provisions should be made to insure that the ventilation is good with no build up of respiratory gasses or manure odors. Allowing such build ups pave the way for respiratory infections brought on in part by the irritation to the respiratory tract by these gasses.
Some readers will recall the era when dairy cows were essentially kept in the barn all winter so they would not contract pneumonia brought on by exposure to cold weather. Veterinarians were kept quite busy treating pneumonias as soon as the barn doors were closed and ventilation was compromised.
Bitter cold increases the need for a feeding program that will meet the needs for a high-energy diet. Failure to meet the needs for maintenance, growth and often a developing fetus will result in some component of the total package being compromised. Do your calculations now to insure that all of the herds needs are met.
Frostbite is an ever-present problem especially during periods of extreme cold and high winds. The extremities are most susceptible with ears, teats, tails and feet the first parts to get nipped. The milking cow with frostbitten teats is a very uncomfortable animal and there is very little an owner can do to effectively treat the condition given that the teat has to be manipulated at least twice a day. Here again preventative measures are the order of the day. Most horse owners that turn their animals out blanket them before doing so but here again the extremities generally remain exposed.
Dogs that are kept outside need adequate shelter and bedding. Straw is the preferred bedding material as it allows the dog to make a nest and burrow in. Old rugs, blankets or towels are not recommended in cold weather as they do not dry out as quickly as straw and freeze making for an uncomfortable bed. Packing straw under the doghouse that is slightly elevated off the ground provides for an additional layer of insulation.
Antifreeze poses an ongoing threat to both dogs and cats which find its taste irresistible. If an animal ingests any of these products the time frame between ingestion and death is short. If an animal is observed lapping at a spill get emergency treatment immediately.
When starting a vehicle on a cold winter’s morning bang on the hood to alert any cat that might be lounging there that things are about to happen and to get off the engine.
Theobromine is the toxic compound in chocolate that does the dirty work affecting somewhat complex intracellular enzyme systems of dogs. It is interesting to note that livestock operations located near chocolate processing facilities and have fed cocoa beans to livestock have encountered toxicities in their stock.
The hustle and bustle of the holidays is not the time to bring a bewildered pet, which in all likelihood is nothing short of an infant itself, into a tumultuous setting where the level of activity does not lend itself to the attention a newcomer deserves. The rigors of the winter season are not the best time to attempt to housebreak a new puppy, it is better done when the grass is green and the daffodils are in bloom.
So much for the joys of the winter season when at every turn there awaits a new adventure that can only reinforce the notion that in time this too will pass.