Although winter is the perfect time to snuggle up with your furry friend and keep each other warm, venturing outdoors in the freezing temperatures can expose your pet to a variety of potential dangers. Before the thermometer dips, know these winter pet safety tips and ensure your best friend stays safe and cozy all season long.
Just like humans, dogs and cats rely on calories for energy—and food provides the calories to fuel activities that help keep our fur friends warm, such as exercising and shivering.
Depending on your pet’s weight and coat type, the number of calories they need varies. Dogs and cats with low body fat and a thin or hairless coat may need more calories during winter to maintain their body heat. On the other paw, pets with higher fat density and a thick coat may actually need fewer calories in winter because they’re better protected from the cold and do not need to expend as much energy, according to petMD.
Your four-legged friend will probably spend much more time indoors once the cold weather arrives—and keeping your pet safe in winter requires some extra diligence in the new season. While potential hazards like cleaning supplies, electrical wires, houseplants, and medicines should always be kept out of reach, pay extra attention to new household items you introduce in winter. For example, keep pets away from space heaters, and always be sure the heater is off before leaving your dog or cat home alone. If you opt to warm up by a fireplace, keep a close eye that your pet doesn’t get too close, especially as embers can be unpredictable.
The season is also a prime opportunity to resupply your pet’s occupying distractions—like chew toys for dogs or scratching posts for cats—to help them stay happy and busy for long periods at a time as you enjoy the season together.
If you use ice and snow melts around the outside of your house, choose pet-safe products. According to American Kennel Club, common melts like calcium chloride and sodium chloride can irritate your furry friend’s paws and may be toxic if licked.
Even in the dead of winter, dogs still need to spend some time outdoors for their daily exercise and potty routine. In the coldest climates, this means conquering icy and rough sidewalks covered with rock salt and deicing chemicals.
Our Paw Guard pet paw protector is a must-have cold-weather solution that creates a barrier between pups’ sensitive paw pads and the salt-treated or cold surfaces. In addition to preventing damage, Paw Guard also restores moisture to dry or cracked paws. You can even place booties on your cat or dog for added protection; just be sure they’re comfortable wearing them!
Once you return inside, wipe down your pet’s paws thoroughly to remove any potential chemicals or debris.
Acclimating dogs and cats to winter weather can help their bodies adjust to freezing temperatures. Take the proper supplies and precautions whenever you go outside together.
Before You Go Out – Make sure your pet is leashed and chipped, especially if there’s snow on the ground. Snow can mask scents familiar to your pet and make it more difficult for them to find their way home if lost. Your pet’s information should be updated and legible.
While You’re Outside – Keep outdoor trips with your four-legged friend brief. Even though their thick coat may help shield them from harsh winds and weather, your pet can still be susceptible to the cold. Remember: if the weather is too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your dog or cat.
You should also consider how much daylight you have before taking your pet outside. As the days get shorter, you should make sure you’re back inside before it gets too dark to see clearly. If you’re walking your dog after sunset, try our Nite Brite Reflecting Leash to keep you both as visible as possible.
Although many dogs are trained to go to the bathroom outdoors, indoor potty breaks may be necessary on harsh winter days. Keeping some Wee-Wee® training pads on hand is especially helpful when the weather is simply too uncomfortable. Place the training pads in a warm part of your house and make sure your pup is properly trained. In instances where your pet must go outside, shovel away a patch of snow (close to your home, if possible) to give them a designated spot to go.
Cats also need a warm place to potty in cold weather. Even though many cat parents may keep their litter box out of sight in places such as the garage or basement, these spots may be too chilly for cats during winter. Move the litter box to a toasty area of your home that your kitty can easily and comfortably access.
With winter weather often comes power outages and snowy, dangerous roads. In the event you need pet supplies or are not able to get to the vet during an emergency, you should prepare a pet first aid kit with items such as:
• Self-adhesive bandage webbing
• Hydrogen peroxide
• Cotton balls
• Antibacterial ointment
• Anti-diarrhea medicine
• Gauze pads
• Latex gloves
In addition, you should keep a four-day supply of easily stored pet food and water. Stock up on any medications your four-legged friend may need, too.
Though rare, frostbite and hypothermia can be fatal to pets who are exposed to severely cold weather. Limit the time your dog or cat spends outdoors and watch out for signs and symptoms.
Frostbite – Wet pets are most susceptible to frostbite, which occurs when extreme cold damages the skin. Signs include blue or gray discoloration where the skin is affected, swelling, dead skin patches, blisters, and coldness of the skin.
Hypothermia – This medical condition occurs when pets exhibit body temperatures much lower than normal. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, muscle stiffness, weakness, and even coma.
If you suspect your pet has contracted frostbite or hypothermia, move them to a warm, dry area and call your veterinarian immediately.
Using antifreeze responsibly is one of the most important ways to keep pets safe in winter. Because antifreeze contains an organic compound called ethylene glycol, it is highly dangerous to pets if ingested. According to Pet Poison Helpline, just one tablespoon can cause kidney failure in dogs and a teaspoon can be fatal to cats.
Symptoms of antifreeze ingestion include drooling, seizures, excessive thirst and urination, and vomiting. Make sure your pet does not get close to areas where you use antifreeze and thoroughly clean any spills. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you believe your pet has ingested antifreeze.
You may be tempted to leave your pet’s coat alone during the cold months, but winter is actually a critical time for grooming. Comb your fur kid’s coat regularly and work your way through mats and tangles; waiting until spring will only make combing more difficult for you and painful for your pet. Plus, trimming hair on your pet’s paws can help prevent salt or chemicals from getting stuck. Because regular bathing helps prevent dry skin, it’s also important to keep up with your pet’s bath time schedule.
Cats in particular may find your car a warm and cozy place to snuggle. In fact, many have been found hiding under the hood, on top of the wheels, and in other confined vehicle spaces. Check under your car and bang on the hood to startle any feline stowaways. This is still a great winter pet safety tip even if you don’t have a cat, as strays can also take cover under your vehicle.
It’s not all risk and danger. Winter offers opportunities to play in the snow, explore beautiful frosty scenery, and keep warm by the fireplace. Keeping your pet safe in cold weather is essential, but it won’t be difficult if you’re prepared. Remaining diligent is the best thing you can do as a pet parent; plan for the cold months ahead of time, know how cold is too cold for your pet, and be ready to manage a variety of scenarios.
Four Paws®, Magic Coat®, and Wee-Wee® products are available at major pet stores everywhere in the U.S. Please check with your local retailer or our Where to Buy page for product availability near you.