Animals in Cold Weather
We just moved from Louisiana and are facing our first Vermont winter. We are concerned about how our dog and cat will cope with the cold weather since they are used to being outdoors during part of the day. Is there anything we can do to help them?
Pets generally adapt their "thermostats" to their environment. In the winter, however, it is impossible to keep their environment at a steady temperature since they switch back and forth between a warm house and cold outdoors. Animals that are outdoors all the time grow thick coats that allow them to withstand long periods in the cold but make them too warm if they are indoors. House animals do not have a chance to grow protective coats and cannot stay outdoors very long in cold weather. Outdoor dogs should have a well-insulated dog house with a floor covered with carpeting or blankets that they can snuggle into for warmth. (Hay or straw can cause an allergic skin reaction.) It is important to keep the bedding dry. The house should be small enough so body heat from the dog will keep it warm. The opening should be small and covered with a flap of carpeting or heavy cloth. Outdoor cats also need a protected place where they can retreat from the elements. It may be a garage, a box lined with blankets on a protected porch or outbuilding. Make sure that outdoor pets have access to water and that their water dishes do not freeze. They will also eat as much as 50% more food at the onset of cold weather. This probably gives them extra weight which helps protect them from the cold. When the temperature dips to zero, outdoor pets should be moved to a closed garage or unheated basement. They need added shelter but would find the family living quarters too hot because of their heavy winter coats. Dogs and cats that live indoors need some exercise -- whether it is play indoors or a short walk outdoors. Keep an eye on their feet, ears, and tails since such unprotected areas can quickly develop frostbite.