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The cold weather is coming quickly. With winter approaching, you've probably taken your winter coat and boots out of storage, but have you prepared your pet for the changing season? Winter can be dangerous for pets. With ice, snow, dry air, and salt on the ground, pets can suffer from dry skin, discomfort, and dangerous hypothermia. Your pet goes through some changes to prepare for winter. For example, both dogs and cats shed fur to grow their winter coats. However, this isn't enough to protect them from the harsh cold.
Unfortunately, many pet parents think that because their dog has fur, winter walks are safe for them, but that's simply not true. While fur does keep dogs warm, not all dogs have thick fur, and no dog has enough fur on their legs and paws to keep them warm while trekking through snow. There are many winter dangers you should be aware of that can affect your pet's health.
Cold Weather Safety Tips
Cold weather can be harmful to your health, and the same is true for your dog. Experts say if it's too cold for you outside, it's too cold for your pets. Here are a few winter pet safety tips to help you keep your pet safe:
Shorten your walks
Most cats don't go on walks outside, so this tip may only pertain to dogs. If you like to take your cat outside, consider keeping them inside during the colder months to prevent exposure to potentially dangerous temperatures.
Unfortunately, you can't keep your dog inside all day. Dogs in snow can be playful, but snow can quickly become dangerous. Dogs need exercise, but most importantly, they need to relieve themselves at least three to five times per day, depending on their size and lifestyle.
Unfortunately, winter walks can be dangerous for pets. For example, salt can irritate their skin, causing dry, cracked dog paws. In addition, walking in the cold snow in even colder temperatures increases your dog's risk of hypothermia and can be incredibly uncomfortable. If you walk your dog in the cold temperatures, you may notice them slowing down or lifting their paws to get out of the cold snow or off the harsh salt; these are signs it's time to take them inside. If your dog is small enough, you can carry them to get its legs and paws out of the cold.
All pets have different tolerance for snow and cold weather based on several factors like coat, body fat, activity level, and overall health.1 Knowing your pet's tolerance can help you predict how long their walks can be and if you should go on one at all. At below-freezing temperatures, consider letting your dog outside only long enough to do their business.
If you have a high-energy dog, winter can be a difficult time because they can't go on their long daily walks to burn off the energy that may cause boredom and destructive behavior. You may notice your dog getting restless because they don't get as much physical activity. However, you can find ways to exercise your pet indoors. One of the easiest ways to engage your dog in activity inside is through play. You can play tug of war, chase them, or play tag.
One great way to help get rid of your dog's nervous energy is by giving them mental stimulation. Dogs love using their brains, and learning can be exhausting. While your dog should have both physical and mental stimulation, you can help keep them focused on an activity like a dog puzzle, treat-dispensing toy, or training to prevent destructive behavior and boredom.
Check your car for cats
Your car puts out a lot of heat when it's on, and it stays warm for a while after it's turned off. Pets in winter seek shelter and warmth, so it's not uncommon for stray cats to find their way under or inside cars for warmth and to get out of the snow.1
Always check for cats under your vehicle before you leave to ensure you won't accidentally hit one. Cats may also find their way inside vehicles through the hood or trunk, or they can sneak on board when you're not looking. Since animals are smart, they can find ways to crawl into the engine compartment, which is the warmest place in the car. They can do this when you leave your car running to heat up in the morning, or they may crawl in after you park your car. Therefore, always check your car for outdoor or feral cats to ensure their safety.
Buy winter pet clothing
Like you, pets should have protection from the elements. Some dogs do better than others in cold weather because they have thick double coats. However, short-haired pets are more susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia since they have less protection. Investing in winter clothing for pets can help keep them warm on walks. There are several things you can try, such as:
Most dogs will tolerate sweaters and jackets, but you may have to work on training them to accept booties. Booties can be essential for dogs in cold climates because they protect them from snow, ice, and salt, which can damage their paw pads, causing cracking and even bleeding.
Clean your pet
Pets in winter, particularly dogs in snow, can pick up salt, antifreeze, and other dangerous chemicals they may lick off themselves.1 Remember, the cold weather can cause paw pad issues, and your dog may lick themselves for relief from pain and discomfort, so they may accidentally lick off salt and antifreeze, which can be dangerous.
Antifreeze is toxic, and salt can cause severe dehydration in pets, so you should wipe them down after each walk. Pay close attention to the areas of their bodies that come into contact with pavement, grass, snow, and ice, including their belly, legs, and paws.
You can keep a damp towel or pet wipes near your door to make it easier to remember to wipe them down after every walk. You should also monitor their paw pads throughout the winter to ensure they're not getting dry or cracking. If your pet's paw pads start cracking, you can use pet products made for dry paw pads. However, if your dog's paw pads crack and are bleeding, you may need to visit your vet to prevent infection.
Know the signs of hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when your pet's body temperature drops too low, and its organs can shut down. Like humans, dogs can get hypothermia in cold temperatures. Knowing the signs of hypothermia can help you determine when to take your pet to the vet for treatment. The following signs may indicate hypothermia in both dogs and cats:
- Pale gums
- Slowing down on walks
- Seeking warmth2
If you notice any of these signs while your pet is outside, bring them inside immediately and monitor them closely.
In most cases, cold pets will seek warmth and shiver when they're cold, but if your dog or cat can't seem to get warm or their symptoms don't subside after coming into a warm environment, it could indicate hypothermia.
Plan for emergencies
Dogs can also experience frostbite, so you should have access to a vet during the winter in case of an emergency. If your dog starts experiencing the signs of hypothermia, they need treatment as soon as possible because hypothermia can cause its organs to shut down, potentially leading to death. Since dogs can go outside for potty breaks at any time throughout the day, you should know the contact information for your regular vet and emergency veterinary clinic in case you need to visit a vet after hours.
Prepare pets for holiday celebrations
The beginning of winter is a time for celebration. But, unfortunately, your celebrations can cause anxiety in pets and create potential dangers. Some pets experience anxiety around too many people or strangers, so if you're having a holiday dinner or celebration at your home, consider giving your pet their own sanctuary space where they can get away from the festivities, noise, and people.
If your dog is free to roam during the holiday festivities, you'll still have to be aware of potential dangers and try to avoid them. Pets love human food, and many of them are curious to try anything. Therefore, you should keep your cats and dogs away from the dining area, kitchen, or anywhere else you'll have food out. In addition, you should remind your guests not to share any human foods with your pet.
Another thing to consider is decorations. Pets will sometimes eat or chew on non-food items, which can cause blockages and choking hazards. Additionally, mistletoe, which commonly makes its appearance around Christmas, is toxic to pets.
Before you prepare your home for the holidays and start inviting guests over, prepare your pet and your home accordingly. You know your pet's personality better than anyone. Therefore, if you think they'll get anxious, give them their own space, or if you think they'll get into your holiday food, set up a baby gate to keep them out of the eating areas.
Carefully remove snow
If you live in cold climates, you're familiar with shoveling snow every time it snows. Keeping walkways and driveways clear is crucial to your safety. Many pet parents also shovel a path for their dogs in the winter. However, you should be careful when removing snow since packing it too close to fences can allow your dog to climb up and escape over the fence. In addition, there are dangers from snow falling off roofs and trapping your pet underneath.
When removing snow, always consider your pet's safety. You should remove snow from your roof immediately because it can cause your roof to sink in or fall. However, when shoveling snow away from walkways, consider whether your dog can use it as an escape route.
Winter Pet Safety: Frequently Asked Questions
Do dogs and cats need more food in the winter?
Cats and dogs may eat or drink more during the winter. If you notice your dog or cat drinking a lot of water in the winter and they've recently been given a clean bill of health from the vet, don't be alarmed. Pets need more food and water during the winter because their bodies are working harder to keep them warm. In addition, extra fat can help keep them warm. Cats and dogs may drink more water during the cold seasons because the dry air from cold temperatures and artificial heat used in your home can dry the air, causing mild dehydration.
Of course, if your pet spends most of its time indoors, they don't need to gain any additional weight to stay warm and healthy, so you should monitor its food intake to prevent unnecessary weight gain.
How do I know if it's too cold for my pet?
As a general rule of thumb, if it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your pet. Therefore, you should never keep your dog or cat outside if you can't stand the cold yourself. Likewise, you should never leave your pets outside without being monitored during winter. Most dogs can only withstand a few minutes of below-freezing temperatures, so don't leave them outside too long.
With these cold weather tips for pets, you can ensure your pet's health and safety this winter. Cold weather can be just as dangerous as hot weather for pets. Knowing the signs that it's too cold for your pet can help you prevent potentially dangerous situations. One of the most common issues dogs experience during the winter is cracked, dry, and painful paw pads due to walking on snow, ice, and salt. If you notice your dog is having trouble walking and find its paw pads are cracked or bleeding, consult a vet.
Dutch can help keep your pet protected and safe during the winter. Our licensed vets can offer winter pet tips and advice to ensure your dog and cat stay warm and safe as soon as the snow starts falling. Try Dutch today.
“Cold Weather Animal Safety.” American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/cold-weather-animal-safety.
“Hypothermia in Pets.” PDSA, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/pet-health-hub/conditions/hypothermia-in-pets.