Keep pets, livestock cozy during frigid temperatures

When temperatures hit single digits and wind chills dip below zero like they have the past few days, it’s time to take extra precautions to keep warm.

That also goes for pets and livestock, area veterinarians and animal advocates said.

Ellen Mirer, with the Jackson County Humane Society, said the most important steps pet owners can take for outdoor animals are to make sure they have fresh water that isn’t frozen and a warm place to get in from the cold.

A doghouse filled with straw is the best option when a dog cannot be brought inside.

“Dogs really need to have a lot of straw so they are able to get down into it,” she said.

Blankets and towels can be used but should be kept dry, so they don’t freeze, Mirer added. Also, pet owners should watch to make sure the dog doesn’t drag the blankets and towels out of the doghouse.

The smaller size of a doghouse works to the dog’s

advantage because body heat will help warm up the smaller space.

“That’s why doghouses are better than keeping a dog in a shed or a child’s playhouse when it’s cold out,” Mirer said.

Seymour Animal Control Officer Todd Lee said he has received what he considers the usual number of calls from the public and the Humane Society this winter to check on pets.

City ordinance requires outside dogs be restrained either on a tether or in a fenced-in yard, be provided adequate shelter and have access to fresh water and food.

Lee said that during the winter he also checks to see if the owner has provided straw for dogs for added warmth.

If those minimum requirements are not met, Lee can write a citation to the owner. The police department also can seize an animal Lee believes is being neglected.

“We will leave a note on the door to give them enough time to comply and to notify them that they are subject to having their pet taken,” he said. “If the case is justified, then yes, we will take the pet.”

Lee said he often makes multiple visits to ensure someone is taking care of an animal.

“If I don’t see something wrong, there’s nothing I can do,” he said.

Veterinarian Paul Rennekamp of St. Francis Pet Hospital in Seymour said the biggest concern with animals in the winter isn’t necessarily the cold temperatures but the wind chill and how cold it feels.

Even animals with lots of fur are at risk for hypothermia and frostbite.

“A nice dense coat helps them, but the skin on their nose, ears and paws can still freeze quickly, and the damage is permanent,” he said.

Aged pets, younger pets and smaller breeds are most at risk of having problems as a result of cold weather, he added.

“But really, with any pet, if the temperature is 18 or lower, you have to be careful,” Rennekamp said.

The best solution is to bring animals indoors into an insulated area of the home or garage.

For livestock, it’s best to keep them in a barn, heated if possible, he added. For added warmth, blankets can be placed over horses while they are stabled, he said.

If the temperature is above 18, an outdoor dog will be OK in a doghouse, provided it offers adequate warmth.

“It should be draft free, sealed up and waterproof, big enough for the animal to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to retain their body heat,” Rennekamp said. “Also, it’s best to have it raised up some off the ground and have straw or cedar chips, and the doorway should be covered and waterproofed so that the dog can still get in and out.”

When it comes to food and water, Rennekamp said it’s better to use plastic bowls rather than steel because a dog’s tongue can stick to it.

There also are special electric bowls that can be plugged in to keep the water from freezing, Mirer said.

“Frozen water is a big issue. If you just break it up, it’s going to keep refreezing,” she said.

After taking pets outside for a walk, Rennekamp recommends owners wipe the paws to remove any deicing salt or antifreeze that might have gotten on them.

To protect animals from the cold while out on walks, owners can put them in a doggie sweater or coat, he added.

“And it’s best to take them on several short walks instead of one long one,” he said.

Mirer said there are even little shoes or booties that can be put on a dog’s paws to protect it.

“I worry about their feet getting stuck on ice,” she said.

Pets and livestock that are in good health will have better protection against the cold, Rennekamp added.

Both Rennekamp and Mirer said most pet owners do a good job of making sure their animals are warm and safe during the winter.

“I saw only one pet that had frostbite last year,” Rennekamp said. “People are doing a good job of avoiding those things.”

If someone knows of a situation where an animal doesn’t have food, water and shelter, Rennekamp said to alert the owners or the authorities.

Mirer said the animal shelter actually sees fewer animals brought in this time of year because they just aren’t running around in the cold.

It’s the dogs that live outside and are ignored that are the bigger problems, Mirer said.

“Some people just don’t know how to take care of their pet,” she said.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at or 812-523-7069.