Keeping outdoor animals warm in freezing temps

NORTHWEST FLORIDA, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - With temperatures reaching to the low 30s this week, many of us are bundling up to stay warm, but it's not that easy for your outdoor pets.

"In general, if you do have animals that live outside all the time like horses or cows or sheep like we have here, you know, they do grow longer coats in the winter time. Florida is a little unique because we rarely hit the 20s like we're hitting this week," Alaqua Animal Refuge Owner Laurie Hood said.

That's why local experts at Zoo World and Alaqua Animal Refuge want to share some tips to keep your animals protected this winter.

"For the majority of animals that people have back home, I'd say about 45 degrees is when you want to start thinking about things. When you're hitting the 20s, if you can, bring your animals inside," Zoo World Curator, Erika Newell said.

But sometimes bringing them in may not be an option, so Newell created the acronym CHIL.

"C stands for closed off from wind. H stands for heat. I stand for insulation and L stands for lifted off the ground. Those four things are the most important," Newell explained.

By providing them a shelter and a place to sunbathe, you can help keep these animals as warm as they can be during these cold times.

And while heat is a great option, experts caution to make sure you do it the right way.

"The heaters are a double-edged sword. It's great to think that you're putting a heater right next to some fluffy bedding or some hay, but that's usually a recipe for fire," Hood said. "They can quickly ignite when the hay heats up or the blanket heats up, a lot of times they can just catch on fire, so you really just have to be very careful about that."

"And you want to be respectful of what kind of animal you have. If you have an animal that is a chewer, a heat source is probably not the best bet if they're going to chew on a cord, so making sure that you know your animal," Newell added.

Newell recommends a pig blanket which can be found at most tractor supply stores.

"It's just a plastic mat that radiates heat from underneath. It does not get super hot, it's just meant to warm the animal up from underneath. It also provides that barrier between the very cold ground and the animal," she explained.

Insulation like hay or blankets is also key and will help keep animals lifted off the cold ground.

"We put out plenty of hay, try to make sure they have plenty of bedding just so they can stay warm, but it's definitely a challenge," Hood said.

"Hay is an amazing insulator because it's a cheap source of something that is going to really warm up your animal," Newell said. "You can get a huge bail of hay from anywhere from $10 to $15 and that hay splits off into smaller flakes and you can use just a couple flakes, you know, for one dog."

"So if you have animals and they live outside all the time, walk around and check out their conditions. You know, walk and see if you're standing in a location that you think is safe for them and warm and if you're cold that means they're cold, so try to make adjustments for that," said Hood.

"Just make sure you're checking on them all the time. If you're a little chilly, they're probably a little chilly, so you want to give them the proper insulation and check on them before you go to bed and first thing in the morning," Newell said. "If your animal is too cold, you'll notice the first thing is always going to be shivering. You're going to see them kind of shake down. You might also notice some mucus drainage from their nose. If their feet pads are cold or their noses are really cold, those are other signs. You see your animals are a little too chilly for the environment, especially the tips of the ears, so if you see shaking, shivering or any mucus drainage, those are things that show that your animals need to have a little extra insulation."

Newell also said if you do find your animals too cold, try to heat them back up slowly by wrapping them in a blanket and holding them against you. She says not to put them in hot water or overheat them and recommends calling your vet immediately.