Cold Weather Common Sense For Pets

These guidelines will help you protect your pets when the temperature drops.

It'll soon be getting cold outside!  As summer begins to give way to cooler temperatures, and jackets and sweaters find their way out of winter storage chests and closets; don't forget your pet will experience some changes too. The following guidelines will help you protect your companion animals when the mercury dips:

  • Keep your cat inside. Outdoors, felines can freeze quickly, becoming disoriented or lost, or even injured and too weak to make it back home even if they know how to get there.

  • During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. If there are outdoor cats in your area, bang loudly on the car hood before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.

  • Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm—dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure your pet always wears ID tags.

  • Thoroughly wipe off your cat or dog's legs and stomach when they come in out of the sleet, snow or ice. They can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking paws or fur. Your dog's paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice, so make sure you check them immediately once he comes back indoors, and clear them of all debris.

  • Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth and water resistance, even if the fur is naturally short.

  • When you bathe your dog or cat in the colder months, be sure to completely dry them before allowing them to go outdoors.

  • If you own a short-haired breed, 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 smaller short-haired dogs, this should be regulation winter wear.

  • Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.

  • Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train him inside. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.

  • Does your dog spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities? Increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him—and his fur—in tip-top shape. Outdoor activity in colder temperatures burns more energy in a shorter period of time, so increasing his food will help provide additional energy.

  • Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. Visit the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center more information.

  • Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.

  • Doggy boots are not just a novelty for pampered pets. Even paws covered in heavy fur get cold when they get wet. Exposure to ice, snow and salt can hurt even the toughest paws. Well-made boots can keep a dog's paws warm and dry in rain, ice, and snow and protect them from the harmful effects of salt and de-icers.

  • No matter what the temperature, wind chill can threaten a pet's life. If your dog is an outdoor dog, however, he/she must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse 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 house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

  • If your pet spends time on a porch or other enclosed area, affected by extreme temperature, routinely check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

  • 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.

Just as we have learned how to take precautions to stay warm, and prevent and treat colds and flu, similar care is needed to ensure the comfort and health of our pets, too.

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When the bite of winter kicks in, many animals get dry skin. A few simple steps can help prevent and treat this condition:

  1. Bathe as seldom as possible. Cats, of course, wash themselves.

  2. Brush your dog or cat to remove dead hair and dander.

  3. Try using a moisturizing shampoo made for pets (they have a different pH from humans, so don't even think about it!).

  4. Eat right - quality food improves nutrition and promotes shiny, healthy fur. You may want to consult with your veterinarian about adding vitamins and fatty acids to your pet's food.


If your pet is small and short-haired, he's likely sensitive to the cold. The same goes for older animals and those that may be frail or ill. You can't take your pet's temperature by touching his nose, but you can feel his body to see if he's shivering. Shivering means you may need to help him keep warm, either by slightly adjusting the thermostat or using sweaters and capes designed for small animals, especially if you live in an extremely cold climate where it doesn't really feel warm indoors because it is so cold outside.

Larger and long-haired pets can usually tolerate colder weather for longer periods of time, and even though you might bundle up, your pet has a long, thick coat and is set for long winter walks. Just pay attention to walking over ice and snow: paws do get cold and sharp objects may be hiding under the powder.


After a jaunt in the snow or splashing in puddles, be sure to dry your pet with towels or a hair dryer. Although they may shake excess water from their fur, they may still be damp. Treat your pet to a warm treat. Try heating up a can of chicken noodle soup for your canine companion, or just mixing in some warm wet food with dry for your cat or dog.


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