8 Tips for Protecting Your Pets During Winter

Winter is a time of wonder, fun, and closeness with loved ones. But amidst this exciting and heartwarming holiday, we still want to be as safe as possible. 

Have you ever wondered if pets need extra care and safety measures for winter? Well, the answer to this is a resounding YES. Winter is a physically challenging season for all living creatures — including cats and dogs. 

In general, cats and dogs face health risks during the winter season such as: 

  • A weakened immune system (which makes pets susceptible to the flu, kennel cough, and other infections);
  • Aggravated cat or dog arthritis; 
  • The possibility of hypothermia and/or frostbite from overexposure. 

In addition, changes in the surroundings can pose safety risks for cats and dogs (e.g. frozen bodies of water) or pet poisoning risks from certain products (e.g. antifreeze, ice melts.) 

The good news is that all of the above risks can be avoided by following these essential tips.

What’s in This Guide?

1. Provide the Basics: Extra Food, Water, & Warmth

Before anything else, here are the basics. Make sure to provide extra food, extra water, and extra sources of warmth for your pet. 

Extra food is necessary during winter — especially after your pet has been exposed to the cold. This is because an animal’s bodily functions for staying warm take up added calories. Extra water is also necessary because of winter’s dry air which leads to increased thirst in pets. 

Lastly, extra sources of warmth (i.e. added blankets, heating pads) will help your furry friend be comfortable throughout the winter season. These extra sources of warmth are especially important for cats or dogs with arthritis because cold temperatures can trigger joint pain in pets that have this condition.

A dog sleeping comfortably on thick blankets that provide extra warmth during winter

2. Be Aware of the Temperature

It’s a common misconception that pets with fur will be able to endure harsh temperatures far better than humans can. Pets are no more immune to cold temperatures than people are. Even with specific adaptations to the cold (e.g. double coat fur, larger size), pets still have their limits. 

As a general rule, both cats and dogs get uncomfortable when the temperature dips below 45°F. This is also the temperature range wherein a cat’s exposure to the outside should be limited. 

As for dogs, though most are uncomfortable at 45°F, they generally tolerate the cold better than cats do. A dog’s exposure to the outside must be limited when temperatures dip around 32°F. 

Note: The above figures are general guidelines. Tolerance to the cold still varies depending on the breed, age, and underlying health conditions of your cat or dog. 

3. Avoid Leaving Pets Outside

During the wintertime, inside the house is the safest place for a pet. Indoors, the temperature is controlled, floors are dry, and living spaces are protected from adverse winter weather. This kind of environment is ideal for both cats and dogs because both become susceptible to conditions like hypothermia and frostbite when exposed to the winter elements for too long. 

Few cat owners would consider leaving their cats outside for the night. But as an added precaution, it is recommended that pet parents prevent their cats from going outside at night completely. The cold nights of winter are dangerous to felines in general.  

As for dog parents, some may be wondering if dogs can be kept in a dog house during winter. While some sources say yes and some say no, the verdict in this guide is this: it’s always best to keep dogs indoors during winter - especially at night.

A dog staying inside the house, laying next to a fireplace, during winter

However, if circumstances do not allow this, the next best option is to make sure the outdoor dog house has all the features necessary to face the elements. Winter dog houses should have all of the following features: 

  • Thick insulated walls
  • A self closing door
  • Moisture resistant roof and walls
  • A platform that raises the dog house around 6 inches from the ground

4. Keep Your Pets Away from Frozen or Icy Bodies of Water

In places like Denver, Colorado, dogs are prohibited from roaming freely with strict leash laws. However, there is NO equivalent city ordinance for cats (as of the writing of this article), that hinders them from roaming. This means cats who are allowed to roam have a risk of meeting an accident with a frozen or icy body of water. 

As for dogs, they have an increased risk of meeting an accident involving a frozen or cold body of water if they are allowed to go off-leash on a winter hike. So if you’re planning to go on a winter hike with your canine companion, secure them with a leash and sturdy body harness. 

5. Be Mindful of Ice Melts & Antifreeze

Frozen bodies of water and plummeting temperatures aren’t the only

In addition, commercial ice melts are irritating to a pet’s paws. The sharp edges of salt in ice melt can cause cuts — and long-term exposure can lead to chemical burns on a dog’s paw pads. Ice melt is also dangerous if ingested. Make sure to use pet-friendly ice melt for your home. As for dogs taken out for regular walks, pet parents can consider getting dog booties or using paw balm. Wiping the dog’s paws upon returning home is also a good winter practice.

Closeup of antifreeze that is carefully poured so that it does not spill and endanger pets

6. Protect Your Pet When They’re Going Outside

Consider getting winter products and accessories to protect your pet from winter’s harsh elements. 

Winter Protection Products For Dogs

The following winter protection products are recommended when taking dogs outdoors during winter:

1. Dog Winter Jacket - Recommended

A dog winter jacket helps keep dogs warm. This winter product is especially recommended for senior dogs, dogs with thin (not dense) fur, and dog breeds that are more prone to the cold (e.g. French bulldogs, Pugs, Beagles.) 

Note: The largeness of the dog and the length of the dog’s fur does NOT mean they automatically tolerate the cold well. Poodles have long and thick-looking fur but they are among the breeds that get cold easily. Great Danes and Mastiffs may seem like large dogs that generate ample body heat but these too count as breeds that are sensitive to the cold. 

2. Dog Booties or Paw Balm - Recommended

Dog booties and paw balm are winter products that protect a dog’s paws during winter. A pair of dog booties help keep a dog’s paws from touching harmful commercial ice melt or sharp pieces of ice. Dog booties also help prevent snowball build-up on a dog’s paws. 

An alternative product for avoiding snowball formation on a dog’s paw is paw wax or paw balm. This topical product helps to avoid ice build-up on dog’s paws. Paw balm also creates a protective layer from toxic ice melts and salts. However, the barrier created by paw balm is not equal to the barrier created by solid dog booties. 

Note: Snow balls or ice balls can build up on a dog’s paw as snow melts after coming in contact with the dog’s skin. The snow freezes again because of the cold environment, thereby depositing layers of ice that form snowballs. 

A side-by-side photo of a dog wearing dog booties and another dog wearing a dog winter jacket

Outdoor Winter Protection For Cats

Although cats are not usually taken on winter walks and hikes the way that dogs are, there are also equivalent wearable winter products for cats. 

1. Cat Winter Jackets - Use with Caution

Cat winter jackets are available in the market. These products can potentially offer a layer of protection from the cold. However, each cat responds to these products differently — with a majority of them not easily tolerating clothes of any kind. 

Note: Some cats may also freeze up or lose balance after clothes are put on them. This is a sign of overstimulation and discomfort

2. Cat Booties - Use with Caution

Booties are recommended for dogs who go outside during winter. On the other hand, it’s more complicated with cats. Cat booties get in the way of the cat’s retractable claws. These claws give the cat traction and serve as the cat’s main defense. Therefore, cat booties generally lead to discomfort. 

3. Paw Balm - Recommended

Should a cat need to go outside during winter, one of the easiest ways to protect the cat’s feet is by using paw wax or paw balm. Paw balm or paw wax protects feline paws (from snowball buildup and ice melts) — the same way it does for canine paws.  

7. Make Sure Your Pet’s Fur is Dry After an Outdoor Activity

After an invigorating session of outdoor winter exercise, towel dry your pet as they come home — or as they return to the car. Cold wet fur draws out body heat and could therefore lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia in pets can be mild, moderate, or severe — and continued exposure to a cold source (i.e. wet fur) can lead to a continually dropping body temperature which can trigger and progress hypothermia in pets.   

8. Know When Hypothermia & Frostbite Strikes

Hypothermia and frostbite are some of the biggest health risks pets face when overly exposed to winter’s harsh elements. Knowing the signs of hypothermia and frostbite enables pet parents to take action quickly. 

Signs of Hypothermia in Pets

  • Drowsiness
  • Shivering
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Pale gums
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of consciousness

Signs of Frostbite in Pets

  • Pain and swelling in the affected area
  • The affected tissue is cold
  • Discolored skin (i.e. pale, bluish, grayish, black)
  • Skin ulcers or blisters

If you see any of the above signs, contact a nearby urgent care veterinarian immediately. The best course of action would be to move your pet to a warm place and wait for further instructions from your veterinarian. As an added note, for frostbitten body parts, AVOID rubbing or using direct heat. 

Final Thoughts on Protecting Your Pet During Winter

We hope you found these pet winter safety tips helpful. The extreme conditions of winter can be challenging — but with these safety tips in mind, you’ll be able to keep your pets safe and happy. 

If you have specific questions about your pet’s health, our veterinarians are here to help! Sploot Veterinary Care is here for you 365 days a year, 10am - 10pm, across all of our veterinary clinic locations. Schedule an appointment online today! — we accept walk-ins and same-day appointments.

As always, we're with you every pounce of the way!

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