The vet’s office: Protecting outdoor pets in extreme cold
By Dr. Roger Krogstad, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Wind chill temperatures have already reached 20 to 30 below zero with more to come. As we sit in the warm comfort of our homes, we must consider our outdoor pets.
Some dogs are naturally cold tolerant due to hair coat and heredity. On numerous occasions, concerned pet owners have called to ask if they should be worried because their dog rarely goes in the doghouse despite the cold weather. When asked the breed of the dog, most often the reply is Siberian husky. Evolving in the northern climates, this breed is better equipped for the cold than short-coated breads like the German shorthair pointer or Vizsla. Larger and obese dogs are also more cold tolerant. Even so, their owners need to take precautions.
Good hydration is important to maintain adequate peripheral circulation to keep the extremities warm. Fluid loss in the dry air of winter is rapid. If the water dish becomes frozen or is tipped over, replacement of fluids is stopped, resulting in poor circulation, frozen extremities, and hypothermia. Some pet stores have water heater units to help prevent this from happening.
Our winter fuel bills increase to keep our homes warm. Similarly, our pets need more calories to keep warm. A higher calorie food or increased food amounts may also be needed. A nonfrozen fecal sample should be submitted to your veterinarian as a good first step to ensure a healthy digestive system. A discussion with your veterinarian concerning supplementing carbohydrates or fats could be appropriate for outdoor working dogs. Be aware that shivering, weight loss, or dull behavior may be an indication of a calorie deficit.
On occasion I have had clients describe the elaborate construction of their doghouse and how weather-proof it is. Some are even heated. I then tell them to drill three holes near the roof and turn off the heat. Constant transition from heat to cold is a stress factor and may result in a dog shedding its protective winter undercoat too early. A lack of ventilation increases humidity and affects the insulation of the dog’s hair coat.
The doghouse, therefore, should only be a glorified wind break. Bedding is optional, but insulation of the floor is essential. A sheet of insulation between the ground and some plywood is a simple solution. Hay or straw bedding can be used but may cause a contact allergy that could result in skin irritation and hair loss.
Common sense is still a good rule to follow. If you have any doubts about your dog’s ability to deal with the extreme cold, bring the pet into a warmer environment until the temperatures rise.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.