Protecting Pets and Livestock from Cold Weather

As temperatures begin to cool, protecting pets and livestock from chilly weather becomes a priority. Pets require protection from the cold, as fur, feathers and other outer skin coverings may not provide enough warmth. Younger or small animals face a greater risk of severe winter-related injuries and death. Most livestock can adapt to cold weather as long they have enough food, water and shelter to help them manage their body temperature. Take these preventive steps to ensure pets and livestock survive this winter season.

Cold Weather Protection for Pets

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides the public with easy-to follow safety and disaster preparation tips such as those below on ready.gov. The following tips have been derived from the FEMA website and St. Louis Department of Health.

  • Always monitor your pets when outside during below freezing weather.
  • Never leave a pet in a vehicle alone.
  • Keep antifreeze away from pets, and wipe up any spills. Antifreeze is poisonous for pets, even in small amounts.
  • Keep your cat indoors to prevent them from going into warm car engines.
  • Check under your car hood for hidden cats or any other animals.
  • Give your pet a bath or a quick wipe of its paws, legs and stomach after coming back from snowy or icy conditions. Pets may lick salt and de-icing chemicals sitting under their feet, making them sick.
  • Determine how long your dog can stay outside without feeling discomfort from the cold. Your dog’s tolerance of winter weather will depend on its age, size, health and breed type.
  • Never walk your dog off its leash in snowy or icy conditions. Dogs often lose their scent in snow and ice, which make them more likely to become lost.

Cold Weather Protection for Livestock

These winter weather protection tips for livestock have been compiled using UF/IFAS Extension, North Dakota State University Extension and Colorado State University Extension publications.

Food

  • Ensure that livestock have enough feed for prolonged cold season. Livestock need to consume extra feed to gain weight. Increased fat provides the body heat needed for livestock to keep warm.
  • Always have an emergency supply of high quality feed, in case of severe winter storms.
  • Sort cows by age, size, health and sex in order to better meet their nutritional needs.
  • Feed cows during the evening or night hours to increase body heat production.
  • Keep hay in full supply for livestock to feed on throughout the winter season.
  • Plant and monitor winter forages for cows and horses to ensure they obtain adequate and essential nutrients during cold weather.
  • Include grasses (i.e. rye, rye grass, triticale and wheat) and legumes (i.e. white clover and crimson clover) into your winter forages. These plants are resistant to freezing and can accompany other plants in the forage without little or no trouble.
  • Prevent cattle from eating weeds and toxic plants.

Water

  • Maintain a constant supply of clean, ice-free water.
  • Clean automatic or energy-free water fountains basins frequently.
  • Check water temperature to make sure that thermostats are working.
  • Keep a portable watering equipment on hand, or have an emergency plan for maintaining enough water for your livestock in case of extreme cold and ice.
  • Consider using heaters in water tanks to prevent water from freezing.

Shelter, sheds and windbreaks

  • Move animals to feed and shelter before severe winter weather strikes.
  • Construct a low-ceiling shed with an open front and slot openings. The slot openings allow air to circulate through the shed to prevent snow buildup. Slot size along the eave should be 1-2 inches in size for every 10 feet of building width. Ridge vents are recommended.
  • Plant shelter beds. Bedding helps keep cattle clean and off of the cold, icy ground.
  • Install windbreaks such as permanent or portable wind fences, man-made or natural (trees). Wind creates winter conditions similar to a sudden dip in temperatures, making it one of the biggest threats to livestock during cold weather.
  • Allow horses to roam the fields to warm up their cold, stiff muscles.
  • Blanket your horses during chilly weather, if they are hair-clipped, underweight or elderly.
  • Consider turning out horses, so they can run or huddle with other horses to generate body heat.

Adapted and excerpted from:

Anderson, Vern et al. “Winter Management of Beef Cow Herd.” North Dakota State University Extension. (05/2011).

Brew, Megan. “Cold Weather Horse Keeping.” University of Florida Lake County Extension. (Accessed 10/2015).

Miller, Pat, and Elzy Lord. “Florida Cow-Calf Management, 2nd Edition – Forages.” UF/IFAS Extension Animal Sciences Department. (rev. 09/2012).

Pet and Animal Emergency Planning.” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (rev. 09/2015).

Severe Winter Weather Rangeland and Livestock Considerations.” Colorado State University Extension. (rev. 08/2014).

Winter Pet Protection Tips.” St. Louis Department of Health. (01/2014).