When temperatures were holding steady at more than 20 degrees below zero in many parts of the state, chances are your friends on Facebook posted photos reminding you that your pets get cold outside, too.
Freezing temperatures and wind chills are a valid danger to anything living and stuck outside. By law, it is the responsibility of an animal’s owner to keep them safe during times of extreme weather.
Donna Wombeke, Executive Director of Baxter’s Heartland Animal Rescue Team, said animals with cold-related injuries are fairly common.
“Our intake is a little higher with people bringing in animals that are strays. We do get a lot of calls on animals that are out in dog houses and that type of thing,” Wombeke said. “What’s going to happen is their feet are going to freeze. We get several cats throughout the year, not only in the winter, where the tips of their ears have froze off. Dogs with standup ears, the tips of the ears will freeze off. Tails will freeze off. So, we do see that kind of injury.”
Wombeke said frostbite injuries are painful, unpleasant and slow to heal. Frost-bitten ears often turn black and pieces slowly fall off. Frozen feet pose a real hazard to pets, as they can get stranded in the cold. This is especially true for house pets with a tendency to wander away from the house when let outside.
“The best thing is if you have a dog that’s going to bolt out the door you need to walk that dog on a leash, because some dogs will get out a ways and then their feet freeze and they’ll just lay down,” Wombeke said. “I have a couple of Chihuahuas that will just stand out there and scream. It just hurts them to move.”
Temperatures don’t need to drop to 10 or 20 degrees below zero for some animals to get frostbite, said veterinarian Kyle Adkins of Country Doc Vetrinary Clinic near Pine River.
“I think any time you are below zero, that’s definitely cold. When we hit 20 and 30 below, it doesn’t take a long time to freeze things,” Adkins said.
Resistance to the cold differs according to an animal’s size or breed. Some larger or more insulated dogs can thrive in an insulated or warm dog house through much of the winter. But cold poses a real danger to small breeds. Wombeke said there is a point where even large outdoor dogs with thick fur should be brought inside.
“If it is cold for us, it is cold for those animals also,” Wombeke said. “They need to bring those animals in. In these types of temperatures there really is no such thing as an outside dog. Some dogs do not like to be in the house, but maybe they can be in a garage where they are out of the elements.”
What about cattle and other large livestock? A herd of cows obviously cannot be let in the house. Fortunately, cattle and other large livestock can be more self sufficient in the cold depending on breed. A barn, shelter or wind break is often sufficient to keep cattle healthy.
“A good thing is just to make sure the cattle have a good place to get out of the wind and cold. For a lot of farmers with an open field, they’ll either put some wind breaks up or build a shelter for them to get out of the wind,” Adkins said. “A lot of cattle that are out in timber are fine because they have a good wind break and they can get out of the elements. The other thing is to make sure they have water. Water is hugely important when it’s cold out because they burn a lot more calories to keep warm, so they also need a lot more water when it is colder out.”
Danny Wiese of Flying W Ranch near Pequot Lakes said feeding cattle early during cold months can also help keep cattle active and warm, though shelter from the wind is vital. A stand of trees often makes all the difference.
“Cattle can basically get behind the trees and out of the wind. It’s basically like a barn. It’s not as warm, but if there’s no wind it doesn’t bother them much,” said Wiese.
Adkins said snow is not sufficient to keep animals hydrated and they must have a source of actual water available to them.
As with other animals, slimmer, smaller and younger livestock can be more succeptible to frostbite. Calves are particularly susceptible, especially when newborn and wet.
“We lose ears, but that would just be baby calves. Unless it would rain, there’s something wrong if they get frost-bit ears,” said Wiese.
Wiese has had his own ears frostbitten while caring for his cattle. His calves are born in late April and March, so his calves are usually safer than those born in colder months, with the exception of last year when the cold and snow persisted into his calving season.
“There’s a lot of farmers that decide to calve around January to February just so they have bigger calves for the fall market. What do they do for cows that are calving? If they are near term you have to watch for early signs for cows being ready to birth,” Adkins said. “Bring them into the barn, give them some shelter or be attentive to them and keep an eye on them. Some cows are good about drying off their calves. Some are not. If they are first-time heifers sometimes they are less diligent about cleaning up their calves. If it’s 20 below and you are calving, you better be watching your cows.”
Adkins said cows that are birthing should at least be given hay or a temporary shelter for insulation and wind breaks. Once the calf is born, the mother can sometimes be led into a barn if her calf is brought inside. There they can both be out of the wind.
“It doesn’t need to be warm, warm. If it is 20 below and you put it in an unheated shelter with some straw, that should be sufficient. You just have to keep an eye on them and dry them off,” Adkins said. “Usually if the calf is up and nursing within an hour or so you should be good.”
In extreme cold, when dealing with a cow that doesn’t clean its newborn well, some farmers will collect their calves and bring them inside to a heated garage or a bathroom. They then clean them off with warm water, and dry them off before putting them back out with their mother. Last year Wiese found himself bringing lots of newborn calves inside so they could warm up.
“I couldn’t go fast enough bringing calves in, so the second day we brought the pickup over there. I would check and find a calf, I would run him up to the pickup. A lot of times I would find a second one and bring him to the pickup and bring him in. Then I would go home,” Wiese said.
Prevention is the best policy. There are warm vests and booties to keep smaller animals warm. When they are let back inside it is good to check their feet to see if there is snow packed in their pads. Clean them if necessary, especially if you use salt on your sidewalks as that can hurt their feet.
Farmers often have an idea when their cattle are nearing term. It is good to keep an eye on them weeks before they are expected to calve and try to bring them into shelter as they get closer.
In addition to wind breaks, cows can also stay warm by herding together and sharing body heat, or bedding down on hay piles that keep them fed and out of the snow.
Travis Grimler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook.