The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 5, 2010


Keeping our pets safe during the winter – special care is needed

Hans the horse has his blanket to keep him warm and his friend Precious the cat to keep him company. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

Winter in New England is tough on humans and it can be deadly to pets. Whether dog, cat, chicken or iguana, all pets need some special consideration when freezing weather sets in. Some, such as the Siberian Husky, seem to thrive in the nastiest weather. Most pets, though, need a winter care routine. The Mosquito asked around for a sampling of tips on caring for pets during the winter.

Some concerns apply to all pets, such as power outages. We can put on extra clothing when the power is out, but an iguana or a cat can develop hypothermia if it is cold for a long period of time. Pets should never be left in a cold car for the same reason. Though why anyone is driving around with an iguana is a different matter.

Dogs and cats

Walking a dog on icy streets can be a problem, said veterinarian and Carlisle resident Dr. Tiffany Rule. “Salt on roads can be quite corrosive” to dogs’ paws. Dogs are in danger when they run free in the winter: old scents change so they can get lost; high snow banks reduce road width, making it more difficult to evade cars. In sub-freezing weather smaller dogs with thinner coats can benefit from dog clothing. Dogs that are very active may need additional protein.

Zero the gekko basks under a heat lamp. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)


Older pets are particularly susceptible in winter, added Rule. At her office at Countryside Veterinary Hospital in Chelmsford she sees arthritic dogs with limited range of motion. “The dogs can’t keep their balance and will fall” while taking walks, she explained. She suggests that owners use a towel as a sling to guide the dog while walking on icy surfaces. Cold notwithstanding, some dogs love to be outside all day. Ned Berube, of North Road, said his two dogs spend the day outside, and come into the kitchen for the night. “Their dog houses are fully insulated,” so the dogs are comfortable during the day, he said.

Most cats are kept indoors but the few that go outside face the same icy dangers as dogs. Rule said coyotes often prey on cats and small dogs when their food sources, most often deer droppings, are buried by snowfall. Every cat owner knows that cats love a warm spot no matter the weather. Owners who have cats that run free should honk their car horns before starting the car, since cats may climb under or up onto the engine block to stay warm.


Horses love to be outside and can stand the cold with some assistance. Icy paths can cause horses to slip and their legs can be cut by the icy edges. Berube says they protect their horse, Hans, by putting boot-type protectors on him. “We found by taking off his shoes he is more stable in the snow,” Berube added. He and his wife Margery check Hans’ feet frequently to remove any ice that has balled up underneath. “Horses like Hans wouldn’t survive the cold” without additional protection, Berube said. “Some breeds love to stay out in the snow. People have to use good judgment” on planning winter care for their horses, he advised. Wet, cold weather can lead to a wet horse, and allowing the horse to dry prevents skin infections. Hans is an old horse and keeping him warm and dry is important. “He has two blankets,” explained Berube, and in very bad weather he wears a raincoat-type slicker over the blankets to keep him dry. Keeping the area free of objects is important, since buried objects pose a tripping danger after a snowfall. Horses are herd animals and usually don’t like to be alone. They can get depressed in the winter when they are kept closed in during bad weather. Hans, though, has taken a great liking to Berube’s cats, Precious and Odie. “The cats are delighted to keep him company,” said Berube. Usually Hans winters at a stable with other horses but this year he is staying in Carlisle. “We weren’t sure if it would work to have him alone but he is fine,” said Berube. The cats stay in the barn year round, he added, and sleep in the loft. Keeping a path clear to the barn is important since taking care of a horse is an all day event. Hans gets many visits each day. “Our routine is that we go out, check his blanket, check his feet, put on his boots and give him a carrot” before he heads outside, said Berube. “At noon time he gets his hay” and in the evening as well. They have a heater in the water so Hans is not drinking cold (or frozen) water. “It’s important that he have several small meals; it helps digestion,” Berube explained. “We cut back on grains in the winter but he can have all the hay he wants.” He explained that additional weight on an older horse is bad for joints.

Chickens play ball

Candy the referee rabbit calls a tetherball timeout. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn

Some chickens need a heat source to survive the winter. Author and chicken owner Terry Blonder Golson of Stearns Street has winter-hardy breeds, she explained, except for her Polish Crested hens “who have big poufs of feathers on their heads. They get trimmed so that the feathers don’t get wet and freeze.”

Her routine is simple, she said. “It only takes a few minutes in the morning to let the hens out, give them clean water (kept on a heating pad made for the purpose) and feed them.” She added that it is “essential here in Carlisle” to close up the barns at night to keep out predators. Once a week she cleans out manure and lays down clean shavings. She notes that chickens need extra feed in the winter. “They get extra cracked corn to provide calories to stay warm.” When the weather is bad she keeps them closed up, but

provides a bit of healthy entertainment: she hangs a cabbage in the coop. “I call it chicken tetherball,” she said. It gives them “greens to eat and something to keep them busy,” added Golson. For more information on chicken care in the winter or to see what Golson’s “girls” are doing, go to

Goats love to romp

The goats at Tricia Smith’s farm are enjoying the snow. “It’s their favorite time of year,” she said, “but they don’t like cold, rainy weather.” Their bodies adjust well to winter conditions and are protected from the cold by their cashmere undercoats. “And their ruminant stomach acts as a personal space heater,” she explained. She said the goats “stuff themselves full of hay, as much as possible, and then digest all night.” When the goats overeat she expects colder weather. She cuts back on grain during the winter and relies on good, quality hay. To keep the goats comfortable she cleans out the barn twice a day. “We want to keep it manure free,” she explained. Her barns for does and bucks have doors that can be left open, but still block the cold wind from entering. She spreads horse stall mats on the concrete floor and spreads hay on top of the mats. In an activity area that she calls their “loafing area” she has a number of sturdy benches and tables spread around the room. The goats love to climb on the tables. Some of her does are pregnant, she said, and “a good mom stows her kid under a table and sleeps in front of it.” She has a water heater for the drinking water, but also brings a hot bucket of water with her when she milks the goats. “They enjoy drinking the hot water.” In the winter her cheese yields increase because the milk, while decreased in volume, has an increase in fat.

Rabbits, reptiles and fish

Rabbits need special care in the winter, Rule said. “Most people don’t realize that bunnies shouldn’t live outside in the winter.” She suggests bringing rabbits into a three-season area when the temperature stays below 50 degrees. “Cold weather is very stressful on their immune system,” she explained.

Reptiles need consistent warmth, she said. Snakes need a constant source of heat under their tank, and iguanas need more sunlight so their bones stay healthy. For owners with stocked ponds she suggests putting a heat ring in the pond to prevent the water from freezing, and an aeration system to move oxygen through the water. Large koi or pond goldfish should not be fed if the temperature is less than 60 degrees.

Whether large or small, all pets need a warm, safe environment to make it through the winter. With frigid temperatures continuing and storms sure to follow, our pets will thank us for the care we give them. ∆

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