Winter is here, maybe not officially, but certainly weather-wise, which for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states, can mean very cold weather. So please, please make sure that your animal companions are well taken care of. Keep everyone warm, well-fed, and watered, and if they are outside animals, like horses or sheep make sure that they have good, weather-proof shelter, plenty of feed, and that their water buckets stay thawed. Remember that those hay eaters turn their bodies into furnaces when they are digesting hay, so don’t give them only grains, because that is not what will keep them warm when the temps drop. Another thing to remember is that outside animals such as horses, if they are healthy, develop thick fur coats to protect them from the winter elements. This allows them to trap air close to their skin giving them extra insulation. So, it is important to be very discerning when using horse blankets, because they flatten the fur taking out that extra layer of protective air, and they can often get lopsided on the horse and become tripping hazards. Horse blankets can be very important if you have an elderly horse or one with compromised health who cannot grow an adequate winter coat, but if you are using a horse blanket, make sure that it is checked regularly from proper placement and make sure it is not creating skin sores from rubbing. If there is snow, and you wonder whether or not your horse is warm enough, check to see if there is snow on their fur. If the snow is not melting off their backs, then their natural insulation if working just great. If the snow is melting and making them wet, they are not staying warm. Their bodies are very much like the roof on a house. If warm air is leaking out, the snow melts, if there is a good layer of snow on the roof, the insulation is working.
Remember too, that there are so many modern amenities that can make your outside animals comfortable in cold weather. Heated houses are available for dogs and cats. I have three beautiful, well-loved barn cats who all have their own heated houses in the barn. Being well fed, vetted, and loved keeps them healthy and happy in the changing seasons. Pet shops sell all manner of protective clothing for dogs now, including rain gear, winter coats, and even paw protectors. My own personal feeling is that a dog with a thick healthy coat of hair, most likely, would do better without, for the same reason a healthy horse doesn’t need a blanket, but certainly dogs with short, thin hair would benefit from an extra layer of protection.
If you have any question about the comfort of your animal friend, all you have to do is look at him or her. Do they look comfortable, or do they look miserable? Are they wet, shivering, unsheltered, or are they warm, dry, and in a safe place? If you can’t tell, put yourself in their position and ask yourself how you would feel if you were in the same position. That really is the bottom line for all seasons and for all animals when we assess the way we care for them: would we want to be treated that way?