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Veterinarians offer tips to keep outdoor animals safe in the cold

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Dec 05 2013 10:35:04 PM MST
Updated On: Dec 05 2013 11:05:10 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

With these below freezing temperatures and the wind chill, Bozeman residents are worried about their animals.

Many people know how to keep their dogs and cats safe, but what about the animals that are kept outdoors year round, like horses or chickens?

We're told that most livestock and outdoor pets can handle these conditions, but there are still important steps to take to make sure they're comfortable in the cold.

Laura Roe is a local veterinarian, and an owner of horses, chickens, goats, and sheep, to name a few. She showed us her animals, and how she takes care of them in the winter.

"As long as they're in deep straw bedding and their water's clear, I do feed them extra hay because it takes more energy to stay metabolically warm," Roe explained. "As long as they have shelter away from the wind...those are the key elements."

She said her horses and sheep do just fine because they have thick coats and have adapted to the climate.

"I don't worry about them at all but I do worry about my goats," she said.

Her goats' fur isn't as thick, so she keeps them inside her barn with heat lamps and heated water. Same goes for the chickens.

"I put a heat lamp up in their coop and they choose to stay inside. They have food, water, heat, and they're out of the wind," she said.

Food, water, and shelter are key.

"Monitor their weight," said Dr. Thomas Jakob, a veterinarian at Cottonwood Animal Hospital. "If they're getting enough calories to maintain their weight, then we know we're doing okay."

He said to make sure your animals have 10 to 20 percent more food than normal. It's essential for them in this weather.

"What produces heat in the body is the process of digestion and other chemical reactions, so the colder it is, the more they need to consume to maintain their weight and temperature," Jakob explained.

And don't worry about the animals being too cold. They can handle it, Jakob said.

What can hurt them, is a drastic change in temperatures.

"The biggest thing to consider with animals...is the temperature differential between daytime temperature and nighttime temperatures," he explained. "So if your horse is outside and it's 0 degrees during the day, and then you bring him in and it's 60 degrees, that's a huge shift. If it's 0 degrees during the day and -20 at night, that's only a 20 degree change, and that's much better for their health."

We're told when animals, like horses, are the coldest is around 35 degrees and it's raining. That's because when it's below freezing, horses fluff up their coats and can maintain their temperatures, but when their coats are wet, it's much more difficult, and they can become susceptible to hypothermia.

We're told if your animal is shivering constantly, or is very still, quiet, and doesn't seem to want to move, it could be hypothermic.

If that happens, you should immediately bring your animal into a warmer area, or take them to the vet.

If left untreated, they can also run the risk of getting frost bite.