JANUARY 18, 2017

Keeping Your Pet Safe This Winter

By Dr. Jack Walkenhorst
It’s a common misconception that our pets are naturally equipped to survive the cold winter months. But the fact is, winter can actually be a quite dangerous season if we don’t take proper precautions to protect our animals. Pets In Need veterinarian and board member, Dr. Jack Walkenhorst discusses winter season hazards for your pets to avoid.

Cold Weather Hazards

Like humans, our pets are susceptible to frost bite and hypothermia. Here are tips to protect your pet during the cold winter months: 

Outdoor Animals

Many people believe certain dog breed, such as huskies and malamutes, are capable of living outside all of the time because of their thick coats. However, no dog breed should be consistently left unprotected outside. According to the City of Cincinnati, when the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, a pet owner should not leave their dog outside for longer than sixty minutes without adequate shelter. For outside dogs, owners should provide a warm, dry, draft free shelter with fresh, unfrozen water. Heated water bowls are a great option to ensure consistent access to unfrozen water. Owners should also feed their outdoor dogs more during the winter because their bodies use more energy trying to keep warm. In 2016, the City of Cincinnati passed an ordinance with further restrictions and shelter guidelines for dog tethering and weather conditions, which can be found by clicking here

A common winter hazard that vets encounter consistently with cats is engine belt injuries. Cats will climb into cars to keep warm, and without knowing they’re there, people will start their cars and harm the cats. Before starting your car in the winter, it’s advised to give the car hood a few raps to make sure there are no cats cozied up inside.

Indoor Animals

Of course the best-case scenario is to bring our pets inside when temperatures are frigid. For dogs that do not have thick coats, it’s best to shorten walks during the winter or even eliminate them all together. When temperatures drop dangerously low and the National Weather Service issues a warning saying it’s hazardous for humans to be outside for extended periods of time, pet owners should simply taking our dogs out to do their business and then immediately bringing them back inside. It’s also best to leave your animal at home when running errands on cold winter days, because cars can quickly get too cold for safety.

For smaller dog breeds that are especially susceptible to cold temperatures, dog sweaters and coats are a good option. It’s also advisable to avoid haircuts in the winter if possible, to preserve the animal’s natural winter coat.

Pets that usually get to play outside or take regular walks can get especially bored during winter months and cabin fever can set in. It’s important for pet owners to take a bit of extra time to create environmental enrichment. Play games in the house, or teach a new trick to help create environmental stimulation for your furry family member.

Environmental Hazards

In addition to cold weather conditions, there are a few common winter products that are hazardous to our pets:


Antifreeze is highly toxic to animals. Even just a teaspoon can be deadly to dogs. It’s important that pet owners clean up any spills, even if the spillage seems inconsequential. Responsible pet owners should also regularly check their driveway for any antifreeze leaks throughout the year. 


The salt we use to melt ice is a toxin that can irritate an animal’s intestinal track. After a pet has been outside, it’s best to clean off their paws. Letting pets clean their own paws by licking and ingesting the salt can cause issues. Pet-safe ice melt is available as a safe alternative for pet owners.

While winter can be a brutal season for all, we can keep our pets safe and healthy by being smart about pet care in cold weather conditions and protecting them from the environmental hazards of the season.