With record low temperatures all over the country and the southeastern United States under Winter Storm Warning, we often get the question from pet owners, “What are the lowest safe temperatures for my pets?”
Of course, the answer mostly depends on the cold to which your pet is acclimated. For example, with rare snow forecast for our home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, our Pearl is not interested in getting off her heated pet bed.
I’m reminded of two dogs from my childhood, Bozo and Frieda. English Shepherds, with those beautiful tan eyebrows accenting their black and white coats, they loved the cold. In our milking parlor we had one small butane-fueled heater. It had a monumental job, trying to overcome the massive leaks around the floppy doors the cows came and went from, windows that never fit the frames, and two walk-through doors for humans. We survived winters only because we were constantly on the move and wore two sets of thermal underwear under our flannel and denim. Thick wool socks were de rigeur, as were rubber boots that were quickly patched when they developed holes.
In other words, it was almost as cold inside the barn as outdoors.
Still, it was too warm for Bozo and Frieda. They liked to lie on the frozen mud puddles. Yes, you read that right, on the ice itself.
As I wrote in a previous post, animals were utilitarian then, and neither the dogs nor the cats got to sleep indoors. Nor did they have doghouses or cathouses, or heaters. If it got to be five degrees outside, they just managed somehow. Were they comfortable? Surely not, yet they survived. Somehow.
Today we are not only more enlightened about our pets’ comfort, but nearly all Americans are more compassionate about our animals. Today I can’t imagine that even farm dogs and cats aren’t properly housed when severe cold snaps occur. Those who are acclimated can probably handle 30 degrees if they have a warm place to cuddle with other animals, but any temperature lower than that they would need some sort of housing and protection from the elements, as well as a heat source.
Most dogs and cats are going to be pretty uncomfortable below 45 degrees.
Pets from northern climates can probably handle colder temperatures for short periods than southern pets. Little sweater-wearers like ours certainly aren’t going to tolerate the cold longer than the time it takes to use the bathroom in the yard.
Pets, pipes and plants. If it’s cold enough to protect one, you need to protect the other two, also.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.