12 Tips for Winter Pet Safety

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Snow, sleet, ice — winters are tough for everyone, but cold temperatures and winter dangers can have a huge impact on pets. Do you know how to keep your pet safe during the long, difficult winter months? Here are some things you can do to keep your pet safe, happy, and warm:

1. Get a checkup.

Old dogs and dogs with certain conditions, such as arthritis, can suffer in cold weather. Also, pets with diabetes, kidney disease, or heart disease will have trouble staying warm because they can’t regulate body temperature. Have your pet checked over and ask your vet for any recommendations to help your pet stay healthy and comfortable. Also, make sure your pet’s bed is in a warm location inside your apartment (keep it away from drafty windows, doors, etc.).

2. Keep pets indoors!

Dogs and cats are not resistant to cold. They are not wearing “fur coats,” contrary to popular belief. Your pets can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia and should never be outside for long periods of time during cold weather. Even dogs that are bred for colder climates (long, thick-coated breeds) should not be outside too long in below-freezing temperatures.

3. Keep the leash on.

Your pet could become disoriented in the snow and become lost, or he may end up in a very dangerous situation, such as wandering onto an iced-over lake. They may also decide to drink water from puddles or gutters, which could be polluted with antifreeze, chemicals, or salt. Keep them safe by keeping them leashed.

4. Wash your pet’s paws.

Winter has hidden hazards that can harm or kill your pet. Salt, antifreeze, and other chemicals used to melt snow pose a serious danger if your pet ingests them by liking his paws or legs after coming in from a walk. The snow and ice can also cause paw pads to become irritated or even bleed, so wipe your pet’s legs, paws, and belly when you come back from your walk — or buy him some snow boots.

5. Bundle him up!

Small and short-haired dogs (and cats) are vulnerable to cold temperatures, so keep your pet warm with a sweater or coat — especially when outdoors.

6. Cars are dangerous in winter, too.

Just as a pet shouldn’t be left alone in a car during the summer, he also should never be left in the car in the winter. Your car quickly turns into an ice box, holding in the cold air, and your pet could freeze to death.

7. Make a little noise before you leave!

Feral and stray cats will seek warmth under your car’s hood to escape the cold — a practice that can be deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on your hood, or honk your horn before you start the engine.

8. Keep your space heater away from pets.

Your pet can be burned by space heaters and heat lamps. They may also knock them over, posing a fire hazard.

9. Have an emergency plan that includes your pet.

If a blizzard or ice storm leads to issues such as power outages, fire dangers, or fallen trees, make sure you have an emergency plan in place for you and your pet. Don’t leave your pet behind in a dark, cold apartment. Instead, look now for hotels in your area that are pet-friendly just in case you need to evacuate your building. Prepare an emergency kit for your pet with extra food, water, and any medications your pet takes — at least a week’s supply — in case you get snowed in and can’t make it to the store.

10. No ice skating allowed!

Not that you’d intentionally allow your pet to “skate” on ice, but it is a very real winter hazard for pets. Icy patches on sidewalks could cause your pet to slip and slide, which leads to injuries such as cruciate tears or other ligament injuries. Don’t allow your pet to venture onto ice.

11. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Trying to stay warm can deplete your pet’s energy — even if they just go out for quick walks. Make sure they have plenty of food and fresh drinking water. Pets (especially those who spend a lot of time outdoors) need more calories in the winter — but not too many more. Ask your vet about your pet’s winter nutritional needs.

12. Know the warning signs.

It may be difficult to know if your pet is suffering from hypothermia or frostbite. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, whining, slow movement, anxiety, or weakness. If your pet starts trying to burrow, get him back inside quickly because this is also a sign of hypothermia. Signs of frostbite include discoloration of the area (pale gray or blue), skin ulcers or blisters, pain, and swelling.