Updated Nov 25, 2022
Frigid winds, sleet, and snow often send people bundling up in layers of clothing, sipping hot beverages, and staying inside for days on end. Before you lock the door and turn on the space heater, stop to make sure your pets have everything they need for a comfortable and safe winter.
Layers of fur and acclimation to outdoor conditions will only do so much against freezing weather. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to guarantee your furry friend’s well-being. We’ll cover these steps and more in this guide to winter pet safety.
One of the easiest ways to keep your pets safe from cold weather consequences is to keep them indoors as much as possible. According to the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine, pets shouldn’t be left outside for long periods of time if the average daily temperature is below 45°F.
Subjecting your furry friends to such temperatures puts them at risk of frostbite and hypothermia, which can be deadly. Clinical signs of frostbite in pets include:
If you suspect your pet is suffering from hypothermia or frostbite, move it to a warm, dry area where you can wrap it in dry blankets. Apply warm – not hot – compresses to the affected areas until you can safely transport your pet to the veterinarian. Avoid rubbing or massaging the frost-bitten area, as this could cause permanent damage and severe inflammation.
Some long-haired dog breeds, like huskies, Bernese mountain dogs, and Samoyeds, are well-suited for walking and playing in cold weather. Going for short walks in freezing temperatures should be fine unless your long-haired dog is young, old, or sick.
On the other hand, some breeds need extra protection against cold weather. Toy breeds, short-haired dogs, lean-bodied breeds, and senior animals must bundle up for wintertime walks. Dress them in a warm winter coat or sweater to help maintain precious body heat.
As a pet parent, you’ve probably heard the saying: “If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.” This is a good reminder to keep pets indoors during cold weather. However, some pets would much rather be outdoors than cooped up inside. If your cat or dog lives outside, ensure they have a warm place to go when temperatures are dangerously low.
Even larger, furrier dog breeds will still lose body heat when left in cold temperatures for long periods. Give their outdoor kennel a touch of warmth by adding an insulated dog house lined with blankets or pine shavings.
Outdoor cats are typically well-acclimated to the weather and know when to hunker down and seek warmth. It’s your job to provide them with a cozy, dry place to burrow and sleep for the season. If your feline friends don’t have access to a shed or garage during the cold season, ensure they have an insulated box or house for shelter.
This video tutorial from British Columbia SPCA shows how to build a DIY winter cat shelter:
If cats don’t have reliable shelter, they may seek shelter underneath parked vehicles. This is dangerous for obvious reasons – cats hiding in a vehicle’s engine compartment are at risk of serious injury. Others hiding underneath and around a car’s wheels risk getting run over. Always check underneath your car in the winter to ensure no feline friends are there. We recommend tapping on the hood or honking the horn to startle any animals hiding below.
If you’re traveling or running holiday errands during winter, we understand the urge to bring your buddy along for the ride. However, you should never leave your pet unattended in a cold car. This can be just as dangerous for your pet as leaving it alone in a hot car in the summer.
Car interiors aren’t well-insulated against external conditions and will quickly succumb to the temperature surrounding the vehicle. Leaving your pet inside a parked car in the wintertime is like leaving it in a refrigerator. Instead, leave the car running and have someone stay with the pet, bring it in the store with you, or leave it at home.
Some chemicals we use to make the cold season safer for driving and walking can threaten our furry friends.
Antifreeze used to keep car engines operational in the winter is extremely poisonous to animals. As few as 1 to 4 teaspoons of antifreeze can be lethal to cats and dogs. Even worse – the sweet taste of the chemical is attractive to pets, sometimes tempting them to lick spills or leaks.
Keep your pals safe by cleaning up antifreeze spills as soon as they occur. Check frequently for radiator leaks and ensure antifreeze containers are kept far out of paw’s reach. Switch out any ethylene glycol antifreeze for propylene glycol, a less toxic form of the chemical.
Other deicers like sodium chloride rock salts aren’t good for pets’ feet. These chemicals are great for keeping roads and sidewalks ice-free but can cause skin irritation and even chemical burns on dogs’ paws. If your pup licks its paw pads to soothe the irritation, it might ingest the toxic chemicals and suffer diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, or internal burns.
Protect your pet’s feet by washing them after each walk, avoiding areas with deicing chemicals, or buying some winter dog booties. Not only will booties keep chemicals off your pet’s feet, but they’ll also protect the delicate paw pads from the threat of frostbite.
You may need to adjust your pet’s feeding schedule to accommodate changes in energy use. Colder temperatures require your animal to use more energy to maintain healthy fat stores and regulate body temperature. If your pet lives outside during the cold season, you should likely increase feeding.
On the other hand, indoor pets might not be going for those long midday walks or weekend park visits. In this case, you might need to decrease feeding to help your pet maintain a healthy weight. In either case, always consult your animal’s veterinarian before adjusting its food regimen.
While you’re busy filling and refilling your buddy’s food bowl, don’t forget to keep an eye on its water bowl, too.
Outdoor pets need access to clean, unfrozen water all winter long. Change the water out frequently to ensure it doesn’t freeze or become cold enough to injure your pet’s mouth. You can also invest in a heated water bowl like this one from Amazon. The bowl automatically turns on in cold temperatures to keep your pet’s water supply from freezing.
Providing your pets with the proper preventive care throughout the year is important to their winter safety. Before cold temperatures settle in, take your animal to the vet for its yearly wellness exam. This small but crucial step will make you aware of any conditions like arthritis or skin problems that could worsen with the cold. Pay special attention to older pets, younger animals, and those with medical conditions. These critters might need extra care throughout the season.
If you’re looking for more ways to keep your pets healthy year-round, you should consider buying a pet insurance plan for coverage of costly vet visits. Read our review of Lemonade, a top pet insurance provider, for more information on plans, pricing, and availability.
While your pet is at its annual checkup, consider having it microchipped for an extra layer of winter safety. Snowy conditions make it harder for lost animals to find their way home. Internal microchips and easy-to-read collar tags give your precious pal a better chance of returning home safely and quickly.
Lastly, be prepared for any wintertime emergencies that could trap you and your pets inside for extended periods. Make sure you have a pet first aid kit, extra food, fresh water, and a cordless heater in the event of snowstorms or power outages. You likely won’t be able to go to the store or vet’s office during winter emergencies, so having the essentials on hand is vital to your pet’s health and safety.
We hope these tips help keep your pets safe and sound throughout the winter months. Remember that while frigid outdoor conditions can be hazardous for your pet, so can some of the indoor decorations and heat sources we use in winter. Read our holiday pet safety guide for tips on keeping your furry family members out of trouble during the most wonderful time of year.
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