Help your pets stay warm this winter

Alabama Living Magazine
Building an outdoor shelter for your pet can be a great family project.

September’s article about pet abandonment generated a large number of responses. It is obvious that people care deeply about the wellbeing of the unfortunate dogs and cats. Frequently we feel despondent about our failure to make any meaningful difference. However, change is slow. 

We have been working towards reducing animal suffering for centuries. The first SPCA was established in England in 1824. The first American SPCA started in New York in 1866. The Humane Society was formed in the U.S. in 1954. Through the tireless work of many generations of compassionate human beings, we as a society now treat animals with more care than we used to. 

When I feel despair, I remind myself that every bit matters and every passion counts. We just have to keep the conversation alive. We will continue to talk about these issues and we will also brainstorm how to make some VERY small but forward moving changes next year. 

Warding off the chill

Now, back to the present! It is the beginning of winter and four months of cold days are ahead of us. Lucky for us, the winter here is not like winter in Montana, but it gets cold. Below freezing temperatures are not uncommon, especially in north Alabama where we live.

Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to hypothermia and should be kept inside during cold weather. In the past, I got some letters from upset readers for pushing the idea that dogs should mostly be indoors. Thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and Pyrenees, indeed do better than short-hair breeds, but even they get cold! The signs of hypothermia (uncomfortably low body temperature) could be whining, shivering, anxiety, slow movements, weakness, or burrowing for a warm place. An easy way to tell if your pet is cold is to notice how they are resting. Curled up in a tight ball means they are cold and conserving body heat while being sprawled out shows they are warm and comfortable.
Feed them a little extra with high-quality food. This helps them better maintain their body temperature. Having access to warm water will be a great plus for many outdoor pets. Several manufacturers like K&H sell heated pet bowls for less than $20.

The next big issue is shelter. A thermometer reading alone does not give us the whole picture of how a pet feels. Wind and rain can also affect how cold we are. Just like us, they tend to lose body heat much faster if they are wet and subjected to even a slight breeze on a cold winter day. 

Build a shelter or buy a shelter. Orienting the opening to the southeast may be a good idea. There are many YouTube videos to guide you. Foam board insulation is a better choice than fiberglass insulation. T1-11 can be used for the exterior and the interior. Make the inside chew and scratch-proof. Be careful when heating the doghouse. I’ve personally heard of two cases where the doghouse caught fire from a heat lamp. Consider something like a Safe Chicken Coop Heater. These are around $40. There are also thermostatically controlled outlets (thermocube) to make sure heating apparatuses turn on when the temperature drops below a certain point. Please discuss the details with a licensed electrician.

Now, about cats. Cats tend to do better to find shelters, but they also need our help and will cherish a nice cozy house. I guarantee that they will kill more mice if they can rest easy in their heated hunting cabin. K&H Pet Products and Kitty Tube make many kinds of heated cat houses. Above all, consider safety. Think of and plan for all the possible ways things can go wrong. You will sleep with a clear conscience. 

During these holiday seasons, please shop from and designate an animal charity of your choice to benefit a few cents from your every purchase. Happy holidays to you and all your friends, whether they bark, meow, squawk, or even hiss.

Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He owns High Falls Holistic Veterinary Care near Geraldine, Alabama. To suggest topics for future discussions, email him at


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