Reprinted from the Jan. 1, 2009, Tri-County News
With how cold it was in December, Jean from the Tri-County News was wondering at what temperature it is too dangerous for our animals outside. I have seen frostbite leave permanent damage on horses, dogs, cats, and calves, and in most cases, they happened at a young age in below-zero conditions. Short, rounded ears are often an indicator that the animal was exposed to dangerously low temperatures that actually killed the living tissue and caused permanent, irreversible damage. I have also seen foot pads completely slough off, leaving only the underlying raw tissue for the animal to walk on after being out in the cold too long. Death from hypothermia can occur in calves or other species that are unexpectedly born outside at this time of year in our area. To answer Jean's question, age, coat-type and size of animal, available nutrition, outside temperature, type of shelter, acclimation to being outside, and time of exposure all seem to be important factors in my experience.
For example: an adult dog who has been outside day and night for years, has an insulated doghouse, thick fur, larger body size, and is fed adequately may do quite well even in below-zero conditions (Will Steger may know some dogs like this). In these same conditions, a chihuahua or kitten might get frostbite or die in a short period of time. A wet calf or foal born in a pasture in subzero temperatures wouldn't stand much of a chance either, but might do fine if there was a good shelter with deep dry bedding they could be born into or brought into shortly thereafter. My house dogs aren't acclimated to severe cold and barely stay outside long enough to make yellow snow while other people's dogs happily sport their icicle beards and go about their farm duties oblivious to the lack of mercury up the thermometer.
Make sure your animals, if they are expected to stay outside in the winter, have insulated shelters, heated water dishes checked daily to confirm they aren't frozen, and adequate access to food. Horses can lose weight in the winter if they are not given enough hay, because so much of their body heat is from digestion. If all of their calories come from grain, that heat generated is reduced and their energy goes toward keeping warm. One might snicker at foo-foo dog sweaters and booties for toy breeds, but in reality, there are neoprene wet-suits and boots for hunting dogs, calf jackets and horse blankets, and they all serve an important purpose (besides just keeping your dog/calf/horse fashionable).
Consider being a softie and let your outside pets come inside, and maybe pick them up some snazzy winter animal garb, particularly if the temperature is in the single digits, below-zero, or when it is windy. If you have late-calving beef cows or early-foaling mares, do your best to provide shelter and bedding. Also, you should frequently check to see if the animal is beginning labor and get the baby dry, warm, and fed as soon as possible.