Whenever the weather gets the way it is right now (very cold and snowy), various posts, emails, and even news stories begin to circulate. You know the ones. Those that show something like a snow encrusted dog or other animal sleeping in the snow and exhorting people with the refrain, “If you wouldn’t sleep outside in this weather, your pet shouldn’t either.”
I will grant that, for most urban dwelling pets and people, who don’t regularly stray far from the climate controlled confines of their homes or jobs in any kind of weather, this is sound advice. The fact is that most pets and people are in no way prepared for this kind of weather.
The problem starts when this idea becomes a universal generalization applied by people to all circumstances, many of which they neither know nor understand.
For those of us who care for and live with outside animals every day of our lives, that generalization is wearisome at best. The fact is that we spend nine or ten months of the year preparing our animals, be they cattle or dogs, for exactly this kind of weather by allowing them to develop the very kinds of natural defenses that allow them to live in this kind of weather.
How can I say that? Because I know that most animals, being near relatives of their wild cousins, retain most of the traits that allow wild animals to survive and thrive in this kind of weather without harm. As a result, we make sure they have year around access to sufficient food and water, exposure to the weather when it is good, and plenty of exercise.
How does that help? Because most animals, unlike most people, expend most of their energy doing two things: getting ready to make babies and getting ready for winter. Giving them access to the right food, weather, and exercise lets them put on the right kind of fat and grow the right kinds of coats so that, even when it is sub-zero outside, they are fine.
How could they possibly be fine? Well, the same way you are fine if you are well fed and properly bundled up against the same cold. Outside animals develop multi-layered fur, sometimes as much as four or five layers thick, coated with various oils and structured in such a way that, even in the bitter cold and snow, they are as warm as you are in your coat and mittens.
In fact, for a variety of animals including cattle and working dogs, a crust of snow functions as an additional layer of protection against the cold. That crust forms an insulating barrier against a far more deadly enemy: the wind. If you see furry mammal covered in snow that is not otherwise in distress, the chances are that it is fine. I can say that because, being warm-blooded, an animal in distress in that situation will be covered in melt ice, not snow or frost or surface ice. This usually happens because the animal is sick or has gotten extremely wet. In that case, yes, the animal is in danger and needs aid quickly.
But for the majority of animals that have been properly cared for the rest of the year, being outside in this weather is not as much of a threat as people want to think it is, especially if they have a place to get out of the wind and, if they need to, out of direct exposure to precipitation. Otherwise, I can assure you they are fine.
No, really. They’re fine.