I suppose our weather today (I’m writing this on Wednesday, January 29th) still qualifies as “sunny south,” technically, because the sun is out. But it’s 22° and it’s not the weather we signed up for as Southerners.
Of course, our pets didn’t ask for this, either. They don’t get a choice.
Which is why it is important for us to provide for them during weather extremes.
Who is acclimated to outdoor conditions? We will stipulate dogs and cats who rarely or never come indoors and almost always spend their nights outside. Such pets can stay outside down to about 40°, but, below that, they need man-made shelter.
Under dry, cold conditions, temporary shelter can be as simple as a cardboard box with deep, soft bedding and a 100-watt light bulb. Just be sure the light bulb is secure and cannot touch the cardboard or bedding, where it might cause ignition. And, the pet must have easy ingress and egress in case nature calls during the night. Or, if he just gets too warm.
A space heater in such a makeshift shelter would be a bad idea.
A better concept would be a permanent doghouse. Doghouses are good for outdoor cats, too, as long as there are no dogs inside! The wooden sides, top and bottom of the house will provide better insulation from the cold, especially in windy conditions. If the roof is shingled, it will suffice in the rain, too. Hang flexible plastic slats over the doorway to help turn away wind yet allow easy entry.
Some outdoor pets simply refuse to enter a confined space. If you have an enclosed garage, it can turn into a temporary indoor shelter. Again, provide plenty of deep bedding the pet can surround himself with. A space heater is fine, but be sure that you use no extension cords and the heater is far enough away from the bedding to prevent contact. Remember, many dogs dig into and rearrange their bedding prior to settling down, so the blankets or straw may not stay where you initially put them. It is better to be a little too cool than to start a fire!
Dogs and cats are mammals, so they are just as susceptible to carbon monoxide as we are. A heater that burns combustibles must never be used in an enclosed space (such as a garage) unless it is vented to the outdoors.
Below 40°, however, all pets need to be indoors, even if it is just an attached garage or laundry room. Yes, I know, wild animals survive in weather much colder than we are experiencing this week, but our domesticated species are not wild animals. They lost many of their coping abilities eons ago.
Besides, you want your pets to do more than just survive. You want them to be comfortable. If that means a good bath and being blown dry before they hop onto your couch, it’s a small price for us to pay to enjoy their company.