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SALT LAKE CITY — With temperatures dipping in the teens and single digits during the winter months in Utah, it’s important to remember not only to take care of the people in your life, but the critters as well. Winter months can be harsh on outside animals, especially those more accustomed to warmer weather.
Most domesticated animals living outside in the winter fare pretty well with proper care from their owners. A few key steps do need to be taken to make sure everyone makes it through the winter healthy and happy.
One of the biggest problems with keeping animals outside during the winter is keeping water fresh and unfrozen. With temperatures dipping into the teens, water can freeze within hours. Winter months are dry and animals needs fresh water as abundantly as they do during the hot summer months.
Many local farm supply stores sell heated waterers for outside animals. Many need to be plugged into a power source with a cord, so be aware of the nearest outlet when planning a spot for a heated water container. Another option is simply to change the water out every few hours. This takes more time, but ensures that the animals are well-taken care of.
Animal control experts recommend banging on the hood of a car parked outside before starting the engine in the winter. Animals like feral cats, raccoons and even birds may be attracted to the warmth of a car's engine and can set up house. Apart from the danger it poses to the animal, starting an engine with a cat or other critter sleeping within can cause expensive damage to the car.
For larger livestock, a simple lean-to or covered shelter will suffice in the colder months. For smaller animals like rabbits and chickens, a covered and insulated coop or cage is recommended. Remember to take into consideration wired areas in cages, as wind and snow can creep in through holes.
Wood walls should be used in smaller animal cages and coops, especially for sides that face wind and ice. Warm nesting boxes should be provided with adequate bedding, such as wood shavings or hay. For dogs that stay outside during the winter months, a sturdy dog house is needed along with dry bedding.
At the beginning of winter, have your outside animals checked out by a vet, or at the very least give them a good check up yourself. Animals with open cuts, sore or cracked hoofs, paws or feet, and animals with any preexisting health problems should be treated before the weather becomes too severe. Snow and ice can exacerbate feet problems, especially on dogs, rabbits and other animals with soft pads on their feet.
Continue to check the animals regularly during the cold winter months. For additional tips on keeping animals safe during the winter, check out the list provided by the Utah Humane Society.