Pets, livestock require special care in cold weather

pet-health-220PULLMAN, Wash. – Unseasonably cold weather is forecast for eastern Washington into next week, with highs below freezing and lows in the single digits. Keep pets and outdoor animals safe with these tips from the veterinary college at Washington State University:

• Invite the outdoor cat/dog in, even if it’s just into a doghouse, tool shed or garage. This goes for even northern breeds like huskies and malamutes since they won’t be acclimated to extreme cold.

• Don’t let pets in and out of a warm house from night to day. Abrupt temperature changes can increase the risk of some infectious diseases.

• Make sure the animal’s shelter is clean, dry and well insulated with straw, wood shavings or a blanket. The opening should have a door and be positioned away from the direction from which snow and wind come. Animals drag a lot of moisture onto their bedding; change it as frequently as necessary or warm it in the dryer.

• When you take out your inside pooch for a “bathroom break,” stay outside too. When you’re cold enough to go inside, it is about time for the pet to go in too.

• Consider a protective sweater for short-coated breeds. But clothes are not a substitute for shelter; wet outerwear can remove more heat from an animal than it conserves.

• Be particularly careful when escorting elderly, arthritic pets outside. They will become stiff and tender quickly. Keep them tethered tightly if the route to the yard is icy; a bad slip can cause a ruptured disc, broken leg or other major injury.

• If you live near a pond or lake, don’t allow your pets or livestock to run loose without some thought. They may head for thin ice and fall through.

• When you bring a pet indoors, wipe its paws and underside thoroughly. Make certain there are no ice balls clinging between the toes or on the soles; these can cause frostbite. If a pet licks rock salt and other chemicals from its foot pads, its digestive tract can become inflamed.

• Outdoor cats may seek warmth on a car engine. Before starting the engine, rap on the hood a couple of times to chase them from beneath the hood.

• If a pet’s outdoor water is not heated, it will need to be changed several times daily so it doesn’t freeze. Pet stores sell heated bowls.

• Outdoor pets may require more calories to generate energy to ward off the cold; add 10-15 percent more volume or add fats to the regular ration. Since fats can lead to diarrhea and dehydration, talk to a veterinarian for specific recommendations.

• Horses and other livestock need a windbreak, cover, warm bedding, abundant high-quality feed and fresh water. Cold weather alone won’t make healthy horses ill, but if exposed to soaking rains, snow and wind they may get pneumonia. Thick bedding of straw or shavings is critical to keep animals off the cold, wet ground. The open side of a livestock enclosure should be faced away from winds. Water must be heated or changed several times daily; dehydration in horses can trigger colic.

For more about the health and well-being of animals, see the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine website at



Charlie Powell, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, 509-335-7073,