Pet Talk: Cold Weather Pet Care

Winter weather is a time to be especially mindful of our pets and what we can do to protect them from the bitter cold and other cold weather dangers. Remember, they depend on us.

Keep your cat indoors, especially in the winter. Left outdoors a cat may freeze, get frostbite, become lost or be injured or killed. During the winter feral cats sometimes choose to sleep under the hood of a car, where it is warmer. When the motor is started the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. I had to rescue a cat that had done this when I worked for a veterinarian. The cat was so severely injured it had to be humanely euthanized. To prevent this from happening, bang loudly on the hood of the car or blow the horn and wait a few seconds before starting the engine to give the cat a chance to escape.

Like people, dogs have varying degrees of tolerance when it comes to the cold. Even the hardiest breeds are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. Know your dog’s cold tolerance. Just because they are animals with fur coats, it does not mean they can automatically handle the winter weather, especially when it becomes extremely cold.

Thermometers might show one temperature, but wind chills can make it feel much colder and therefore more dangerous. If your pet is whining, shivering, slows down or stops moving, seems weak or starts looking for a warm place to burrow, it’s time to get them back inside because they may be showing signs of hypothermia.

Your dog’s ability for heat retention and regulation can be overwhelmed by excessive cold. And, if the animal’s coat gets wet, the fur loses much of its insulating ability.

If you own a short-haired breed of dog or one without an undercoat, consider getting a warm coat or sweater for them. While this may seem like a luxury, it is a necessity for many dogs. If your canine is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed, take him out only long enough to relieve himself.

During walks, your canine friend’s feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, salt or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside thoroughly wipe these areas off to remove any chemicals and reduce the risk of your pet being poisoned by licking them off. Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked pads or bleeding, because these same chemicals can irritate and burn your dog’s sensitive pads. You may want to consider using pet boots or a pad balm for protection.

Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. It has a sweet taste that canines are especially attracted to. Make sure your vehicle is not leaking antifreeze and be sure to clean up any spills. It takes a very small amount to make animals sick. Be sure antifreeze containers are tightly closed and far out of reach of curious pets. If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, veterinary care is essential.

Just as your car can act like an oven in the summer, it can act as a refrigerator in the winter. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) notes that cold cars can retain cold and cause animals to freeze to death. Err on the side of safety and do not leave pets in your car in the cold.

Don’t let your dog off leash on ice or snow, especially during snowstorms, as canines can lose their scent and easily become lost.

Keep these winter care tips in mind to insure you enjoy the season to its fullest with your furry friends.


Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].

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