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Protect farm animals, outside pets in winter

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Although spring is just two weeks away, domestic animals continue to suffer outdoors in extremely cold temperatures.

Dr. Connie White Lawless, a Copley Township large-animal veterinarian who also treats domestic pets, addresses the needs of both in this week’s pet expert column.

Lawless writes: The extremely cold and harsh weather we have been experiencing in Northeast Ohio has generated numerous inquiries about the welfare of animals kept outdoors.

There are many factors that influence the necessities of domestic animals that must live outside during the winter months. We always need to consider species, age, health, size and hair coat. Sick animals, those that are very young or very old and very small animals will need more care when conditions are severe.

All animals, regardless of species, require the same basic necessities during severe weather. These include shelter, fresh water and increased food intake.

Keeping warm takes a lot of energy. Animals that are not adequately supplied with the basic necessities will start to quickly lose weight. This weight loss will make it even harder for the animal to stay warm and will cause the animal’s health to rapidly deteriorate.

Smaller animals have a harder time staying warm. Animals with short hair coats are less equipped to handle the cold than animals with long hair coats. Many people think that rabbits, dogs and cats are just fine being out in the cold because their wild counterparts survive cold temperatures.

However, a wild rabbit is not in a hutch with a metal bottom, exposed to the elements. It is in an underground den where it builds nests of fur to insulate it. A coyote is also in a den underground, not tied to a chain above ground with the wind and snow blowing around him.

Ideal doghouse

Dogs and cats should have a draft-free, insulated house that is large enough for them to stand up and turn around in, but not so big that their body heat is lost from the structure. An entrance way or windbreak, to block the wind from the main compartment of the house, is ideal. This can be done by building a maze with a few bales of straw leading to the entrance.

Clean, dry bedding is also important. Straw is recommended over blankets and rugs, which get wet and dirty very fast.

Dogs housed in a kennel or on a run stay warmer than dogs kept on chains. A chain’s cold metal can cause increased body temperature drops and the exercise restriction can make it harder for a dog to stay warm.

An ample supply of fresh clean water can be difficult in freezing weather, but it is very important. Using a heated bowl or going out three to four times a day to break ice and refill with fresh water is necessary.

Giving your pets extra food will also help them maintain the energy they need to keep their body temperature normal. Try to avoid feeding them only once per day; two meals will help them maintain a steadier metabolism.

Cozy on the farm

Farm animals such as horses and cows can cope with extremely low temperatures better than dogs and cats but they still require the basics. A three-walled structure to offer protection from the elements should always be available for farm animals to use.

The majority of storms approach from the north and west so the entrance should be in the direction that will provide the most protection, like south or east. Again, fresh water should be available at all times and pasture-fed animals should be supplemented with feed or grain, not just hay.

Thoroughbred horses and those with shorter hair coats may need to wear a blanket or be kept inside a barn. Goats are very susceptible to pneumonia and may need to spend most of the winter in a barn.

Sheep have a very thick fleece of wool and are also very good at adapting to cold temperatures.

As long as these farm animals have use of a structure when they want to get out of the elements, have plenty of food and fresh water, maintain their weight and have no outward appearance of illness, they are probably coping just fine.

If you still have concerns about an animal that is living outside in cold weather, call your local humane officer. If conditions are subpar, they will notify the owner of changes that must take place for the health and welfare of the animal.

— Dr. Connie White Lawless

Pet Vet Animal Clinic, 
Copley Township

Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or email Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. Questions will be forwarded to an expert best suited to address your pet issue. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.


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