We are lucky in our area to have relatively mild winters and little snowfall, but temperatures still can dip below freezing during our coldest months. Cold temperatures, combined with icy conditions and winter chemicals, can be dangerous for pets, especially if you aren’t prepared for a cold snap. The Tender Touch Animal Hospital team has some winter safety tips to help you prepare and keep your pet snug as a bug in a rug this winter.

#1: Know your individual pet’s needs

Each pet is an individual, and some are more sensitive to cold than others. Pet breeds with thick, double coats are highly tolerant of cold, but others will be uncomfortable outside at temperatures near or below freezing. Still others are extra-sensitive, and will begin to feel cold around 45 degrees. Factors that make pets more sensitive to cold include:

  • Small or short body stature
  • Short or thin coat
  • Little body fat
  • Age — seniors, puppies, and kittens are most sensitive
  • Chronic medical conditions

#2: Limit your pet’s time outdoors

Whenever possible, pets should be housed indoors throughout the winter season. Plan to stay indoors when temperatures drop if you have a sensitive pet, and limit time outside to short potty and play breaks. Sensitive pets may benefit from clothing, such as coats, sweaters, boots, and snoods, to help them stay outside longer and make a fashion statement in the process. If you have outdoor pets who absolutely cannot come inside or go into a garage or barn, ensure they have a well-insulated shelter, fresh, non-frozen water, and warm, dry bedding at all times. 

#3: Keep a close eye on your pet

If the weather allows your pet to go outdoors safely, ensure you monitor them at all times. Go for a walk together or watch them play in the yard, paying close attention to their behavior and attitude. Never leave pets unattended in cold cars or fenced areas, and avoid letting pets run off-leash if snow is obscuring unfamiliar terrain. 

If you notice your pet shivering, slowing down, or acting anxious, bring them indoors to warm up. While it’s unlikely unless temperatures are below freezing, pets can fall victim to hypothermia or frostbite if they are left outside in cold temperatures for long periods. Move your pet to a warm, indoor area and contact your veterinarian or emergency veterinary facility if you believe your pet has sustained cold-related injuries.

#4: Beware of icy ground

Ice is most likely to be a problem in the early mornings when temperatures are lowest, and can sometimes be difficult to spot. Older, arthritic pets are most susceptible to slips and falls as they are less agile and unable to right themselves after a misstep. Avoid early morning walks and use a pet-safe ice melter on your driveway and walkways to ensure you have good footing for potty breaks. You also can improve your pet’s traction and reduce their chances of falling by outfitting them with boots or rubber toe grips.

#5: Care for your pet’s paws

Paws and paw pads can take a beating during the winter months, becoming rough, dry, or cracked. Paw butters are a good option to keep paw pads supple and avoid accidental tearing. Trimming long fur between the toes and paw pads can reduce ice and chemical accumulation, as can wiping your pet’s feet to remove potential toxins, such as road salt, each time you come in from outdoors.

#6: Be cautious around antifreeze

Ethylene glycol in antifreeze has a sweet taste and is deadly for pets in only small amounts. Keep antifreeze containers secured and on high shelves, and clean up spills immediately and thoroughly. Keep pets away from garages, sheds, and vehicles where leaks potentially could occur. If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze—no matter the amount—contact your veterinarian, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately.

#7: Continue parasite control

Parasites in our area remain active year-round, so winter is not the time to stop your parasite preventives. Hard freezes can slow down some parasite activity, but they quickly become active once temperatures rise again, and predicting these fluctuations is nearly impossible. Plus, wildlife and other pets can serve as parasite carriers, providing them with warmth and nourishment so they can easily infect their next host. The safest way to protect your pets from parasites is to continue prevention products year-round.

Follow our tips to stay safe and enjoy the winter season with your pet. Contact the Tender Touch Animal Hospital team if your pet sustains an injury this winter, if you need help determining your pet’s cold tolerance, or if you need parasite preventive refills for your pet.