Winter Safety Tips for Pets

Winter Safety Tips for Pets

As the weather shifts to white and blustery, it’s time to brush up on some winter weather safety reminders for protecting your pets from the cold. Most pet parents know the basics, but did you know it’s important to check your dog’s feet after a winter walk? What about outdoor cats that refuse to come indoors for the winter?

Sometimes you can’t simply avoid the cold. Your pets will be exposed to potentially harsh temperatures, rain, sleet, snow, and dry winter air. Take care of your four-legged family members with these great winter weather safety tips for pets. Winter can be a lot more fun for everyone as long as you make sure your pets are safe from the cold.

A yellow tabby cat lays curled up on a bed next to a window with snow falling outside

Winter Weather Safety Tips for Cats

Let’s face it: your cat is going to do what they want to do, right? While you could try putting them in one of those cute cat Christmas sweaters, we all know they probably won’t cooperate. But give them a spot next to the window in the morning sun or a warm spot by the fire, and they will be perfectly content. Most cats are happy to be warm and have a safe place to be undisturbed for their naps and self-bathing, but you may worry yourself to pieces about your outdoor cats or the neighborhood cats that everyone feeds.

Outdoor Cats That Won’t Come Inside

While, of course, inside is the safest place for cats, not all cats are pets or will stay indoors. Cats are very resourceful and will find ways to survive, but there are things you can do to make winter more survivable and possibly cozier for outdoor cats and animals.

Give Them Shelter

Provide a shelter for outdoor cats. You can make one yourself using a thick Rubbermaid storage box, or you can buy an insulated cat house for them. Provide some soft material inside the cat shelter to give them a snuggly place to sleep. Use plastic feeding containers to keep them from getting their tongues stuck to a metal bowl that has frozen.

Check the Car

Cats often will find their way into wheel wells or under the hoods of cars to stay warm. Check your vehicles for any cats, kittens, or other wildlife that may be hiding there before you crank up your car. Knocking on the hood is a good way to rouse any napping animals before starting the engine!

Remove Poisons

Antifreeze and other common winter chemicals can have a sweet odor but are deadly for cats and other animals. Keep them locked away in closed containers, so your outdoor cats or other curious critters don’t drink them and poison themselves.

Feed Them More

Outdoor animals eat more in the winter to build up a protective layer of fat that keeps them warm. Make sure to feed your outdoor cats more than usual for the winter months. Always provide fresh water if their water gets frozen over at night. Do not give them hot water to drink, but keep it room temperature and offer water and food morning and night.

And, in general, if your pet cat does like an occasional romp in the snow, make sure to bring them in at night; clear their paws and fur of water, ice, and de-icer chemicals; and don’t let them out when it’s below freezing. Despite their fur coats, if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them!

A small beagle runs through the snow carrying a very large stick in its mouth

Winter Weather Safety Tips for Dogs

As a loving pet parent, you need to know how to protect dogs in cold weather. Like cats, you want to focus on the basics like shelter, food, and keeping them safe from any potential poisons. Here are some winter tips for dogs to help your dogs have a safe winter season.

Shelter Is the Most Important Thing for Dogs in Winter

If your dogs must be outside some for the winter, be aware their usual shelter may be insufficient for winter conditions. If severe cold weather is coming, it is best to bring your dogs inside. If they must spend some time outdoors, fortify their shelter to withstand harsh winter weather and give them as much comfort as you can by following these winter shelter tips: (Some of these tips are from the Humane Society of the USA website.)

  • Provide shelter that is draft free
  • Make sure the shelter floor is several inches off the ground
  • Cover the bottom of the shelter with cedar shavings or straw (Be advised that if you have chickens that roam, cedar shavings are unhealthy for them.)
  • Cover the doorway with heavy burlap or plastic
  • Never put an electric or propane heater in an outdoor dog shelter
  • Use plastic feed and water bowls
  • Feed outdoor dogs more in the winter so they can build up healthy fat stores

Protect Your Dog’s Skin in the Winter

The winter air can be especially harsh. It is dry and frigid some days and icy wet on others, all of which can be rough on your dog’s sensitive areas like their noses, ears, and the pads of their feet. Check these areas for any dryness, sores, or rough patches. Try a soothing balm with hemp extracts, olive oil, and shea butter for tender and dry areas to relieve any discomfort.

Walking Dogs in Cold Weather

Even though the weather outside is frightful, dogs still think their daily walks are delightful. They may wag their tails just as much while walking in a winter wonderland with you as they would on a fine spring day.

Dress them for the weather:

  • Get them a super-cozy doggie sweater. Your dogs may not like their winter gear at first, but they may learn to be more appreciative as those temperatures plummet, and the white stuff falls from the sky.
  • Try some doggie slippers or socks to protect the soft pads of their feet. If they don’t like wearing booties, limit how long they’re out and don’t let their feet get too wet.
  • Protect delicate, exposed skin and put some vaseline or pet balm on their noses before going out.
  • Keep watch or keep your dogs leashed. It is easy for them to get lost in the snow when all the familiar smells are iced over.
  • Check your dog’s feet! Dogs can pick up de-icer and salt or other chemicals from the snow and ice. Wipe their feet off after a walk to keep them from licking tender feet and ingesting these potentially harmful substances.

Keep walks a bit brief. You may have to opt for a few shorter walks over one long one.

Don’t Leave Your Dog in a Cold Car

A cold car can be just as dangerous for your dog as a hot one. If you take your pooch on the road with you, do not leave them unattended in a cold car. Cars aren't well insulated, so the temperature inside can get too cold very quickly. This can cause a dog's core body temperature to drop, leading to hypothermia.

A dog's nose sticks out from under a blanket with snow falling down through the window behind

Other Winter Tips for Dogs

In addition to all these winter weather safety tips, here are just a few more helpful hints to keep them safe and happy all season long.

  • Cold weather and animals can sometimes be OK in short increments. If your dog is built for the cold and has a thick coat of winter fur, let them play in the snow! Just keep these times brief and take care of those noses and feet!
  • When you bring your pets inside after some fun in the snow, make a cozy spot for them to lay with a fresh blanket or towel right out of the clothes dryer.
  • If your dog refuses to go out to potty when the weather is cold, you may have to coax them with a special treat like these delicious pet chews or a tasty lick of pet peanut butter!

Winter Fun for Everyone

Winter weather safety is a matter of prevention, protection, and care so your pets can enjoy the colder months with you while feeling warm and cozy. Their wellness depends on you, year-round, and it’s up to you to keep them safe. By following these simple tips and being a bit more mindful of the winter weather, everyone can enjoy some winter fun and extra snuggles this season.

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