Pet Corner: Herbs to Warm Your Pet’s Soul

| November/December 2006

All creatures have their own inner thermostat, and every animal has a temperature zone where he feels most comfortable. My wife and I, for example, have been married for nigh-on 50 years now, and from Day One of our marriage, we have been in a constant tussle for control of the household thermostat. She always wants it to be set at least 15 degrees warmer than I do. When she is comfortable, I’m sweaty; and when I’m comfortable, she’ll be layered under two or three sweaters, crouched under a blanket.

In scientific lingo, this is referred to as the animal’s thermal neutral zone (TNZ), and all animals have one. A critter’s TNZ ranges over about a 10-degree spread, and as temperatures move outside this zone, the animal rapidly becomes more and more uncomfortable. But just where this 10-degree spread falls for the individual depends on several factors:

• Hair coat. Perhaps the most obvious — a thick-coated collie will have a much lower TNZ than will a Mexican Hairless.

• Seasonal differences. Animals adapt naturally to the changes in local temperatures. There are two mechanisms that help fuel this adaptation. First, most mammals grow a denser, warmer coat for winter and shed in the spring for a thinner, cooler coat for summer. Also, as winter approaches, a healthy animal’s thyroid kicks in and fires up its metabolic rate, thus fueling the animal’s ability to generate internal heat. In the spring, the opposite occurs. So a healthy animal with a thick winter coat and a charged-up thyroid might have a TNZ of 45 to 55 degrees in December. This same animal with its summer coat and a metabolic rate adjusted to summer’s heat, might feel most comfortable at 65 to 75 degrees.

• Exercise generates heat (shivering can be thought of as another form of exercising), and a “working” animal will have a lower TNZ than a couch potato.

• Wind and rain. Breezes cut into the animal’s protective fur coat, making it feel colder than the ambient temperature would indicate. During chilly weather, wet is even worse. Wet fur loses much of its insulating capability; evaporation of the water on the animal adds further cooling effect; and wet surfaces conduct heat much more readily than dry surfaces, taking the animal’s natural inner heat out and away from the body. Whereas an animal might be fairly comfortable in 40-degree calm and dry weather, he would be miserable at the same temperature if he were left outside during a windy, rainy day. Thus the absolute necessity of providing adequate shelter for all pets that you keep outside.

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