This is a continuation and the final part of a blog series on winter weather pet hazards. With the prior information in mind, the determination of how long to allow outdoor activity or of the type of outdoor housing as well as how long to house outdoors becomes more of a judgment call. Generally speaking, if you are outside, unsheltered, wearing a winter coat and perceive coldness to the point of shivering, your pet is probably feeling cold as well. Their insulation consists of their anatomic adaptations while we dress in layers to provide the same degree of protection from the cold. Another factor to consider is breed origin. Some breeds are cold climate adapted while others are warm climate adapted. Cold climate adapted breeds will have a much denser hair coat and a larger percentage of body fat compared to total body mass. These breeds are better able to withstand longer periods of cold weather exposure. It would follow that if you own a dog or cat that ancestrally originates from a temperate or tropical climate, own a short haired or short cropped groomed animal, own an animal whose body condition would be characterized as lean, or an animal with one or more health problems, you should curtail the amount of outdoor time that is allowed during cold weather conditions. It would also be advisable to watch for the physiologic signs mentioned in part two of this series that signal cold distress. Most household pets in this area are considered to be a part of the family and are kept indoors. If outdoor housing is being considered, there are a number of commercially available, igloo type outdoor shelters that are well insulated and in some cases heated. Placement of the housing unit in an area that provides shelter from the prevailing winds is strongly recommended. Like any type of animal care, should an animal be housed outside for even short periods of time, constant supervision is necessary. They should not be left alone for an extended period of time. Also keep in mind that water needs are actually increased during conditions of cold weather; a ready supply of fresh water is as necessary as the calorie intake needed to support outdoor activity.
To establish metrics for gauging weather safety and as part of an overarching effort to aid animal care professionals in determining criterion for animal cruelty, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine has established a number of scales to evaluate among other parameters, body condition and weather safety standards. The scales incorporate a grading scale from 1 through 5 with 5 representing the worst case condition; these are presented below for your usage. The ideal situation is a scale grade from between 1 and 3.
A wind chill graph to determine perceived temperature based on wind speed and ambient temperature can be obtained from the following URL: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/windchill.shtml