JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Freezing temperatures are in the forecast, making warmth and safety a priority for Mississippians.
Cold weather can pose serious threats to human health, as well as animal health. Both pets and livestock can be at risk. Leaders with the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) shared the following tips to help keep animals and livestock safe during the cold weather:
- Winter wellness: Has your pet had their wellness exam yet? Cold weather may worsen some medical conditions like arthritis. Your pet should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, and it’s a good idea to get them checked out to make sure they’re ready and as healthy as possible for cold weather.
- Know the limits: Cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat storage, activity level and health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance for cold weather and adjust accordingly. You will probably need to shorten your dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or hormonal imbalances may have a harder time regulating their body temperature and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets.
- Provide choices: Just like you, pets prefer comfortable sleeping places and may change their location based on their need for more or less warmth. Give them some safe options to allow them to vary their sleeping place to adjust to their needs.
- Stay inside: Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it’s untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside.
- Make some noise: A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it’s deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood.
- Check the paws: Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of ice ball accumulation by clipping the hair between your dog’s toes.
- Play dress-up: If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog’s feet.
- Wipe down: During walks, your dog’s feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down or wash your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after they lick them off of their feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.
- Collar and chip: Many pets become lost in winter because snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that might normally help your pet find their way back home. Make sure your pet has a well-fitting collar with up-to-date identification and contact information. A microchip is a more permanent means of identification, but it’s critical that you keep the registration up to date.
- Stay home: Hot cars are a known threat to pets, but cold cars also pose significant risk to your pet’s health. A car can rapidly cool down in cold weather. It becomes like a refrigerator and can rapidly chill your pet. Limit car travel to only that which is necessary, and don’t leave your pet unattended in the vehicle.
- Prevent poisoning: Clean up any antifreeze spills quickly, as even small amounts of antifreeze can be deadly. Make sure your pets don’t have access to medication bottles, household chemicals, potentially toxic foods such as onions, xylitol and chocolate.
- Protect family: Use space heaters with caution around pets, because they can burn or they can be knocked over, potentially starting a fire. Check your furnace before the cold weather sets in to make sure it’s working efficiently and install carbon monoxide detectors to keep your entire family safe from harm. If you have a pet bird, make sure its cage is away from drafts.
- Avoid ice: When walking your dog, stay away from frozen ponds, lakes and other water. You don’t know if the ice will support your dog’s weight, and if your dog breaks through the ice, it could be deadly.
- Provide shelter: If you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide them with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water. The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from winds. Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.
- Recognize problems: If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.
- Be prepared: Prepare a disaster/emergency kit and include your pet in your plans. Have enough food, water and medicine on hand to get through at least 5 days.
- Feed well: Keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout the winter. Some pet owners feel that a little extra weight gives their pet some extra protection from cold, but the health risks associated with that extra weight don’t make it worth doing. Watch your pet’s body condition and keep them in the healthy range. Outdoor pets will require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to keep them warm.
Cold weather safety for livestock:
- Recognize the importance of early veterinary care: Schedule a veterinary exam early in the season to address any concerns before the harshest conditions arrive. This is a good time to discuss vaccinations, nutritional supplementation, deworming and other parasite treatment needs. Veterinary attention is especially important for animals that are pregnant and very young or very old animals may require special attention.
- Provide appropriate shelter from the elements: Livestock can generally tolerate cold temperatures, but wind, rain or snow will require a greater expenditure of calories. With that in mind, be sure they have a way to get out of the elements, especially the wind. Blankets can help protect horses, but a structural shelter with proper ventilation and dry bedding is the best method of protection. If you do blanket your horses, be sure to check underneath often for signs of injury, infection, or malnutrition.
- Consider the amount and quality of feed: Besides taking shelter, livestock keep warm by expending energy, which means they need to consume enough calories to heat themselves. Consider talking with your veterinarian to develop a feed plan that meets your animals’ nutritional needs. This may mean increasing the amount of feed available to your animals, and/or increasing the quality of feed. Very young, very old, or sick animals will typically have additional nutritional needs during the winter compared to healthy, middle-aged animals.
- Ensure access to water: It is crucial that your herd has access to fresh and unfrozen water. Tank heaters or heated buckets can help keep water at a temperature your animals are more comfortable drinking. Livestock will not consume adequate amounts of water if it is near freezing, and consuming enough water is important to your animals’ health and well-being in winter months.