Just like hot weather can create dangerous situations for our pets, cold weather comes with its own set of concerns. Even quick walks outside to go potty can be risky in extreme sub-zero temperatures!
However, while many pet owners are aware of the dangers of prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures, not all winter threats to our pets are directly caused by the cold. Some are a result of the things we do to combat winter weather for our own comfort and safety in and around our houses.
To keep your pet safe and warm as the weather gets colder, we consulted experts in the pet industry to help you prepare your house to protect them this winter. Here are the most common winter household threats and tips for combating them.
Essential tips for keeping your pets safe this winter
As a general rule, the best way to keep any pet safe when winter weather hits is to think about what is safe for you (i.e. if it’s too cold for you, it will probably be too cold for them as well).
However, there are instances where you may be safe/comfortable when they are not.
For example, many people assume that because our pets are graced with fur or hair that they are better prepared to deal with cold winter temps. This isn’t necessarily true, as veterinarian Marla J. McGeorge, DVM explains:
“For the same reason that mountain climbers can get hypothermia no matter what type of protective clothing they are wearing, mammalian systems for heat retention and regulation can be overwhelmed by excessive cold.”
Our pet’s fur may not always be as effective as we think, even indoors. Pets that are older or sick may still feel cold at temperatures that are comfortable for us. Pets with shorter fur or hair may as well.
Furthermore, our pets don’t always know what is good for them to ingest (they might think something which is harmful smells good — think chocolate). So we need to be proactive to protect them from potential substances that could hurt them.
Here are 12 tips to keep your dogs, cats and other pets safe around your home this winter.
Keep in mind, your pets aren’t the only ones that like to come inside when it gets cold… pests like rats and mice will too. So if you’re using rat poison to combat their presence, make sure your pet can’t get into it (they like the smell/taste just as much as rodents do).
You’ll also want to watch out for common outdoor chemicals too – antifreeze use increases in winter so make sure to keep it out of reach and clean up spills immediately. Consider using antifreeze that doesn’t contain ethylene glycol (the substance that makes it sweet and toxic) to keep them safe!
If your neighborhood has a lot of dogs, consider using road salts that are pet-safe (these aren’t common, but some companies make them). Additionally, keep the fur around your dog’s paws trimmed – this prevents ice build-up between the pads, which can contribute to frostbite.
Answers to common winter pet care questions
We find pet owners often have questions about caring for their pets in their homes during cold weather. We sought out answers from pet experts and veterinarians to some of the most common ones below.
1. How can I treat my pet’s dry skin?
Answer: Here’s what the American Kennel Society recommends:
“Purchasing a humidifier to use when the weather is cold and dry, using a veterinarian-approved shampoo and reducing the frequency of baths usually resolves dry skin on dogs, as long as those factors are the cause. Switching to a high-quality diet provides the necessary nutrients your dog needs for a healthy coat and skin, so talk with your veterinarian about a nutrition plan, along with any supplements that they recommend.”
2. At what temperature should pets be brought inside?
Answer: From Dr. M.A. Crist, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences:
Once the temperature dips below 45°F, it’s best to bring your pets inside. If you can’t bring them inside for some reason, ensure that they have warm, draft-free shelters to seek refuge from the cold in.
3. How cold is too cold for leaving your dog in the car?
Answer: From veterinarian Jennifer Coates, DVM (via PetMD):
“Dogs are individuals. An outdoor temperature that feels downright balmy to one dog might send another in search of shelter.”
It will depend on how long you plan to leave your pet in the car, what breed your pet is, how cold the weather is, how warm the car is when you leave it, etc. A good way to think about this is to put yourself in your pet’s shoes… how long would you be comfortable in the car at this temperature without a coat?
4. What indoor chemicals/products are dangerous to pets?
Answer: From the ASPCA:
5. How cold is too cold to walk my dog?
Answer: From veterinarian Jennifer Coates, DVM (via PetMD):
“The best way to monitor dogs when it’s cold is to keep a close eye on their behavior. If you notice your dog shivering, acting anxious, whining, slowing down, searching out warm locations or holding up one or more paws, it’s time to head inside.”
It depends. The risk of hypothermia and frostbite increases with a drop in temperature, the duration of exposure and wind chill. Wet fur (often caused by melted snow) can also increase this risk further. If you plan to be outside for an extended period of time, or if temperatures are subzero, it’s best to use a waterproof coat and or booties/shoes to keep them warm and dry while outside.
6. Can snow hurt my pet’s paws?
Answer: From Dr. Jerry Klien, CVO (via the American Kennel Society):
“During the wintertime, your dog’s paws can take a beating with all the snow, ice, salt on the sidewalk and overall cold weather. It’s important to protect their paw pads as they don’t have protection like we do when we wear shoes.”
Yes. Our pets’ paws are sensitive to cold like our skin is and even short-term exposure to snow can cause frostbite. So limiting it is important, especially in extremely cold temperatures.