How To Protect Your Pet During Winter and Cold Weather

Some pets are better suited than others for living outdoors. There is a common misconception that dogs and cats will be "fine" if left outside. This is not true.

Like humans, they can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite.

The young and the senior pets are especially at risk.
All pets need adequate shelter from the elements and insulation against cold weather. Pets should not be left outside for long periods in freezing weather.

Exposure to winter’s dry, cold air and chilly rain, sleet and snow can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin, but these aren’t the only discomforts pets can suffer. Winter walks can become downright dangerous if chemicals from ice-melting agents are licked off of bare paws.

To help prevent cold weather dangers from affecting your pet’s health, please heed the following advice from our experts:

Keep pets indoors
The best prescription for winter's woes is to keep your dog or cat inside with you and your family. The happiest dogs are taken out frequently for walks and exercise but kept inside the rest of the time.

Don't leave pets outdoors when the temperature drops. During walks, short-haired dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater.

No matter what the temperature is, wind chill can threaten a pet's life. Pets are sensitive to severe cold and are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia during extreme cold snaps. Exposed skin on noses, ears and paw pads can quickly freeze and suffer permanent damage.

Take precautions if your pet spends a lot of time outside

A dog or cat is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. If for some reason your dog is outdoors much of the day, he or she must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. 

The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

Caution - do not use a heat lamp, space heater, or other device not approved for use with animals.

This is a a burn hazard for your pet and a fire hazard. Pet supply vendors sell heated mats for pets to sleep on or to be placed under a dog house, but read and follow directions carefully before use.


Help neighborhood outdoor cats

If there are outdoor cats, either owned pets or community cats (ferals, who are scared of people, and strays, who are lost or abandoned pets) in your area, remember that they need protection from the elements as well as food and water. It's easy to give them a hand.

Give your pets plenty of food and water

Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

Be careful with cats, wildlife and cars

Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

Protect paws from salt

The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth.
Avoid antifreeze poisoning

Antifreeze is a deadly poison
, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and keep antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic to pets, wildlife and family. 

Speak out if you see a pet left in the cold
If you encounter a pet left in the cold, politely let the owner know you're concerned. If they don't respond well, document what you see: the date, time, exact location and type of animal, plus as many details as possible.
Video and photographic documentation (even a cell phone photo) will help bolster your case. Then contact your local animal control agency or county sheriff's office and present your evidence. Take detailed notes regarding whom you speak with and when. Respectfully follow up in a few days if the situation has not been remedied. Learn more »

If your pet is repeatedly coming out of the cold into the dry heat of your home it can cause itchy, flaking skin. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as he comes inside, paying special attention to his feet and in-between the toes. Remove any snow balls from between his foot pads.

Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter 

A longer coat will provide more warmth. 

If your dog is long-haired, simply trim him to minimize the clinging ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals that can dry his skin, and don’t neglect the hair between his toes.

If your dog is short-haired, consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.

Bring a towel on long walks to clean off stinging, irritated paws. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals—and again check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes.

Bathe your pets as little as possible during cold spells

Washing too often can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If your pooch must be bathed, ask your vet to recommend a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse.

Massaging un-petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents.

Booties provide even more coverage and can also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation. Use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible.

Frozen lakes and ponds

Animals don't realize what "thin ice" is. Once they fall in, it is very difficult for them to climb out and hypothermia is a very real and life-threatening danger. "Ice skating" dogs are prone to injuries such as cruciate tears if allowed to "skate" with their humans. This is also true of icy walks.

Arthritic animals

Arthritis is worse during cold and damp weather. Take special care to handle your pet gently, watch out for icy walks, provide soft (and possibly heated) bedding, and administer any necessary medications. See your veterinarian if your pet is arthritic or you suspect arthritis.

Horse owners: provide special care to your outdoor pets
    Give your horses shelter and dry warmth. Be sure your horses have access to a barn or a three-sided run-in so they can escape the wind and cold.

    While not all horses will need to be blanketed, blankets will help horses keep warm and dry, especially if there is any rain or snow. If you’ve body-clipped your horses, keep them blanketed throughout the winter.
    Supply food and water to your horses around the clock

    Give your horses access to unfrozen water at all times. You can use heated buckets or water heaters/deicers to make sure the water doesn’t freeze.

    Feed your horses more forage—unlimited amounts, if possible—during extreme cold. This will help your horses create heat and regulate their body temperatures.
    Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside. 
    If left outdoors, pets can freeze, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed. 
    In addition, don’t leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, as cars can act as refrigerators that hold in the cold and cause animals to freeze to death.
    Reference/Sources

ASPCA
Humane Society

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