Preparing Our Pets for Winter

AspenSyd-2-150x150Cold weather can pose a set of dangers to pets. We need to provide special care and concern to prevent things like hypothermia, frostbite, and antifreeze poisoning. Let’s help keep this winter safe and warm for all our pets.

Guidelines to help protect your pets from cold weather

  • Bring pets inside when the temperature is below freezing.
  • Sweaters may help small dogs with short hair coats stay warm when they go out in the cold.
  • Even dogs with well-insulated doghouses should be brought inside when the temperature drops below 5° F (-15C).
  • Make sure outdoor dogs have proper housing:
    • The doghouse must be dry and draft free.
    • The interior must be large enough to allow dog to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold in body heat.
    • The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground.
    • The doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic and face away from the wind.

Most pets are happiest indoors and at our sides. For pets that must be kept outside, proper shelter from cold weather is essential. Doghouses must be properly insulated and of adequate size for the animal. Outdoor dogs must also have a constant supply of thawed drinking water, as hydration aids in burning calories and producing heat; caloric intake often needs to be increased as well. Grooming is also important because a matted coat looses its ability to insulate the animal.

Hypothermia and Frostbite

Annie Snow -Winter can be especially cold and cruel to our animal friends; therefore, it is important to remember that dogs, cats, and other pets need protection from the elements. Pets exposed to wind chill, winter weather, or an accidental fall into cold water may experience hypothermia and/or frostbite.

Hypothermia is a medical condition resulting from a lowering of body temperature. A low body temp impacts the body’s metabolic and physiologic processes. Respiration and heart rate are slow, blood pressure is low, and consciousness is lost. When an animal’s rectal temp reaches less than 83° F, normal body temp will not return on its own. This is a serious and fatal condition! You should apply external heat and take your pet to its veterinarian IMMEDIATELY!

Frostbite results from exposure to cold and manifests itself by the destruction of superficial tissues. Frostbite usually affects the tip of the tail, the tips of the ears of cats and erect-eared dogs, and the scrotum of dogs. While frozen, the skin appears pale and cool to the touch. After thawing, there may be intense redness, heat, pain, and swelling. The frostbitten patient’s frozen tissues should be rapidly thawed by gently applying warm water. As sensation returns, self-trauma should be prevented with the use of an Elizabethan collar. Some frostbitten patients may require pain control or drugs to control inflammation as sensation returns and blood flow to the affected tissue is restored.

The best treatment for hypothermia and frostbite is PREVENTION! Please remember that your pet relies on you for protection from the elements.

Holiday Hazards

Many of our pets tend to get less exercise during the winter months and this lack of activity and stimulation often leads to mischief. Pets may get into things they normally would not get into such as holiday foods and plants, antifreeze, ice melts, Christmas tree decorations and preservative, and medications. These items are high on the list of potential winter dangers for pets. Additional hazards of the season include: batteries, electrical cords, liquid potpourris, and rodenticides.


The foods listed below are potential dangers to pets. You should be sure to store these items out of reach, and be sure to dispose of them completely; garbage cans or compost piles can be a difficult temptation for an animal to resist!

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Avocados
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Fatty foods
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Garlic or garlic powder
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Salt
  • Hops (used in home brewing)
  • Moldy or spoiled foods
  • Yeast dough
  • Onions and onion powder


Holiday plants are lovely and festive but may become a pretty poison for pets. Poinsettia is actually on the low end of the toxic scale and usually only causes some GI upset. Christmas cactus can also cause GI upset, and is especially irritable for elderly animals or those with serious medical conditions. American mistletoe most often causes depression and vomiting, but has the potential to cause more serious signs, such as low blood pressure and cardiovascular collapse. American holly generally causes GI upset and depression but can be highly toxic when ingested in large amounts.


Antifreeze leaks and spills are opportunities for pets to lap up sweet poison. Spills should be cleaned up immediately and unused product stored out of reach.

Ice Melts

Ice melts are skin and GI irritants, and ingestion of these products may cause salt toxicity. Ice melts should be stored out of reach and wipe off your pet’s paws after they have been outdoors.


Electrical cords may be chewed on (especially by puppies or kittens) and can result in electrocution. Batteries for new toys (from Christmas presents) may also be a risk and cause GI corrosion.


Winter does tend to bring the cold and flu season, therefore you are more likely to have more medications available for a mischievous pet to get into. These medications should be kept out of reach of pets, preferably in closed cabinets.

The best preparation for winter’s hazards may be to keep your dog or cat inside with you and your family. The happiest dogs are those that are taken out frequently for walks and exercise but kept inside the rest of the time. Remember that most dogs and cats are social animals that crave human companionship. Give it to them and you will have enjoy a lifelong friend!

Source: Veterinary Technician, Vol. 24 No.11 November 2003