Protect Your Pets from Winter’s Chill – Here’s How

winter pet safety

Sure, it makes a cute picture, but THIS is NOT the solution!

Winter weather can be hard on all of us. It can be particularly difficult on our pets that rely on us for their well-being, especially for outdoor dogs and cats.

Temperature Related Conditions

Puppies, senior dogs and dogs with certain disease conditions (such as thyroid conditions) are more susceptible to cold temperatures. Temperature related illnesses require immediate removal to a warm, dry environment and medical attention by your veterinarian.

  • Hypothermia can result from extended exposure to cold and is a life-threatening condition. Watch your dog for signs of shivering, shallow breathing, weak pulse or lethargy.
  • Frostbite is a temperature related tissue injury and most commonly occurs on ears, tails, scrotum or feet. Signs include discolored skin (red, pale, or grayish) swelling, or blisters. Check your pet often for signs of frostbite which may be hidden beneath fur.

Cold-weather Chemicals

  • Antifreeze - Ethylene Glycol, car antifreeze, is a deadly poison and has a sweet taste that appeals to dogs. As little as 1-2 teaspoons can be lethal to a small animal. Clean up all spills and consider switching to a Propylene Glycol product that is safer.
  • Ice Melters - Salt and ice-melters can act as a skin irritant. Make sure to wash your pet’s feet off after coming indoors. Dogs with long fur and /or short legs should have their stomach areas cleaned off as well.

Winter Grooming

  • If you normally have your pet’s fur clipped or shaved, keep the length longer in winter to keep your dog warm.
  • Nails may require more frequent trimming since your dog is spending more time indoor on soft surfaces.
  • If you bathe your dog at home make sure he is completely dry before going out. You may even want to switch to a waterless shampoo for the winter.
  • Examine the pads of your dog’s feet for signs of cracking or irritation. A pet-specific foot balm will help condition the pads.

Cold-Weather Outings

  • Dogs with short coats or low body fat (Chihuahuas, Greyhounds, miniature Pinschers etc.) will benefit from a water-resistant sweater or coat when outdoor temperatures drop.
  • Boots are a good way to protect feet and pads from salt and chafing.
  • Keep your pet on a leash in cold weather – more dogs are lost in the winter than in any other season. Unleashed dogs may also run onto partially frozen bodies of water.
  • Limit the duration of your outdoor trips to minimize chance of frostbite or hypothermia.
  • Don’t let your dog eat snow. The snow may cause stomach upset or there may be hidden objects in the snow.

Special Considerations for Outdoor Dogs

  • You should bring your dogs inside for the winter if at all possible.
  • If bringing your dogs inside for the season is not possible your dogs must have warm, windproof shelter – preferably heated.
  • Dry, clean bedding is essential to keeping warm and straw or bedding needs replenished all winter season long.
  • Water & food can easily freeze. Use heated bowls to prevent freezing and make sure that the electrical cords are out of reach of your pets.
  • Outdoor dogs will burn more calories (up to 30%) and need extra food. Make sure that you are feeding additional rations during cold temperature.

Winter Training Tips

Basic obedience training and cold weather safety practices will allow you and your pet to enjoy winter weather conditions safely.

  • Make sure that your dog or puppy is comfortable with having their feet wiped & handled. Keep towels near the door and making foot-wiping part of your daily routine. Reward your pet for allowing you to examine the condition of pads, check for ice in between toes, and trim fur (if required.)
  • Obedience training for loose leash walking will make slippery walks safer for both pet and owner.
  • Commands like “leave it” can save a dog’s life when confronted with a pool of antifreeze or an unknown object in the snow.
  • Recall (coming when called) can keep a dog from running onto a partially frozen body of water or away from another winter hazard.

Pet safety tips for the winter months

•    Do not leave your pet outdoors when temperatures drop below freezing. Dogs need outdoor exercise, but take care not to keep them outdoors for lengthy periods of time during very cold weather.  Pets that are mostly indoors need time to adapt to cold temperatures by building up a thicker coat and toughening their footpads for ice and snow. Short-coated dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater during walks.  Dogs and cats are safer indoors during all sorts of extreme weather.

•    Care for your pet’s feet. If your pet walks on salted or chemically treated areas, be sure to wash its paws after your walk.  Gently rub the bottom of the feet to remove these irritants as soon as your dog is off the road.  Many dogs need boots in cold weather, regardless of their coat length.  If your dog frequently lifts up its paws, whines or stops during walks, it may be demonstrating that its feet are uncomfortably cold.

•    Wind-chill is a threat to pets, even those protected by shelters.  Outdoor dogs must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to both sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to retain body heat.  The floor should be elevated a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The entrance of the doghouse should be turned to face away from prevailing winds, and the entrance should be covered with a flap of heavy waterproof fabric or heavy plastic.

•    Pets that spend a greater amount of time outdoors in the winter need more food.  Maintaining warmth depletes energy. Routinely check your pet’s water dish to ensure the water is fresh and not frozen.  To prevent your pet’s tongue from freezing to its feeding or drinking bowl, plastic, rather than metal food and water bowls are preferred.

•    Never leave a pet locked inside a car during extremely cold weather.  Cars can actually act like a refrigerator, holding in cold air, putting your pet at risk.

•    Be leery of frozen bodies of water. Always keep your pets on a leash when walking them near suspected frozen bodies of water.  The ice may not be sturdy enough to support your pet.  If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue your pet yourself; call 9-1-1 or go for help.

•    Antifreeze and de-icing chemicals can be hazardous. Many types of antifreeze have a sweet taste that can attract animals.  Always store antifreeze out of reach and clean up spills. Antifreeze made with propylene glycol can actually be swallowed in small amounts and not injure pets, wildlife or humans.

•    Warm automobile engines are dangerous for cats and small wildlife. Parked vehicles can attract small animals, which may crawl under the hood seeking warmth.  To avoid injuring hiding animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them off before starting your engine.

If possible, bring your pets inside during cold winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas and make sure they have access to non-frozen drinking water.

If the animals are outside, make sure their access to food and water is not blocked by snow drifts, ice or other obstacles.

 The following tips on winter pet safety are provided by the Humane Society of the United States:

  • If pets cannot come indoors, make sure they are protected by a dry, draft-free enclosure large enough to allow them to sit and lie down, but small enough to hold in the pet’s body heat. Raise the floor a few inches off the ground and cover it with cedar shavings or straw. Turn the enclosure away from the wind and cover the doorway with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.
  • Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate a pet’s paws. Wipe their paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates their mouth.
  • Antifreeze is a deadly poison. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze out of reach.