Animal alert: Protect livestock, pets during heat wave, WSU experts warn

Livestock seek shade

In a heat wave expected to roll across the Inland Northwest next week, daytime temperatures will spike above 100 degrees from Spokane to Seattle. Livestock and pets are at risk from extreme heat, Washington State University Extension experts warn.

“Our animals depend on us,” said Don Llewellyn, WSU associate professor and livestock extension specialist. “Livestock owners, farmers, and youth raising animals for 4-H and similar projects should prepare for heat and dangerous conditions.”

While different livestock and pet species have specific needs, Extension experts share general suggestions to keep animals safe.

Avoid stressful handling of livestock. If necessary, only do so in the early morning hours or late in the evening.

Ensure animals in barns or sheds have proper ventilation and air circulation.

Provide shade to animals kept outside, if possible.

Provide a continuous supply of cool, clean water. Water is very important, allowing animals’ bodies to cool off and stay cool. Sufficient water is particularly important for animals that are lactating or pregnant, to ensure health of nursing young as well as newborn animals.

Watch for signs of dehydration, such as lethargy, drying of the mucous membranes and eyes, or eyes that appear sunken and dull.

Clean water is also important. Excessive heat and stagnant water can promote blue-green algae growth, which has shown to be toxic to livestock, wildlife, and humans.

In times of heat stress, it may be necessary to reduce energy intake, such as from grains and concentrates, and increase fiber in the diets of animals such as 4-H steers and lambs. This can help mitigate heat stress.

The following table provides insight into the amount of water and feed required by livestock.

Table – Animal Food and Water

AnimalAmount of water/dayAmount of feed/day
Lactating cows20-25 gal/dayFree choice hay, protein supplement to meet requirements
Dry cows5-15 gal/dayFree choice hay
Lactating sow3-7 gal/day8 lb of grain
Dry sow3-6 gal/day2 lb of grain
Lactating ewe/doe2.5-3 gal/dayFree choice hay, protein supplement to meet requirements
Dry ewe/doe1-2 gal/dayFree choice hay
Chickens1 gal/20 birds3 lb grain/20 birds
Horses10-15 gal/dayFree choice high quality hay
Rabbits0.1-0.25 gal/dayFree choice high quality hay
Llama/alpaca2-5 gal/dayFree choice hay

In addition, endophyte infected forages, such as fescue or other forages or crop residues containing endophytes, should be avoided, as they may exacerbate heat stress in cattle.

Heat stress is made worse by high humidity. Animals find it more difficult to cool off in humid conditions. While the Inland Northwest does not experience high humidity during summer, the west-Cascade marine environment is more prone to higher humidity. East of the Cascades, areas of irrigated farmland are an exception and can experience higher humidity.

During and following heat stress, watch for signs of respiratory disease and digestive disorders in livestock. Wide temperature swings of 40 degrees or more between day and night can predispose livestock to infection.

High temperatures with low humidity also increase the likelihood of wildfires. Homeowners should make an emergency plan for disaster preparedness.

For assistance with livestock questions during the heat wave, contact your WSU Extension specialists, County Extension educators, Extension veterinarians, or your local veterinarian.