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the big chill: tips to protect pets during winter weather

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan




Winter storm Pax is here, which means another round of winter weather is affecting pets in many parts of the United States. Although there are few things more beautiful than freshly fallen snow, storms that bring cold, snow and ice can also put your pets at risk. Follow these safety tips to protect your pets during a winter storm: 

On thin ice

Ice is as slippery to our pets as it is to us. Just because they have four feet instead of our two, that does not make them any more capable of navigating slippery sidewalks and steps. Be sure to keep your pet’s pathway free from ice, especially where stairs are involved. Keep in mind that fresh snowfall can hide icy patches.

Frozen lakes or other bodies of water should be avoided altogether because of the danger posed by thin ice. Pets are especially susceptible to hypothermia when they get wet in the winter. 


A cold burn

Speaking of ice, beware of outdoor areas that are covered in salt or other de-icers. These chemicals make the terrain safer, but they can also irritate our pets’ paw pads and skin. Keep unscented baby wipes near the doors your pet uses so that you can wipe your her feet upon entering the house. Be sure to check for clumps of salty snow stuck to the fur between foot pads. You can avoid this trouble altogether by having your dog wear booties – if she’ll tolerate them!

Antifreeze is particularly prevalent this time of year, and its sweet flavor can tempt pets and wildlife into tasting it. Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is a potent toxin, causing kidney failure and death, and the sad news is that it doesn’t take much to cause illness. A teaspoon and a half of the sweet green liquid is enough to be lethal to a cat. Consider purchasing antifreeze with an added bitter flavor to deter tasters (now required by law in several states), and always clean up antifreeze spills thoroughly.


Let it snow

Every winter, I am overjoyed watching my dog romp in the snow. She looks so incredibly happy bounding through the backyard in two feet of the white stuff! However, not every pet enjoys the snow. Cats and small dogs can easily get lost in deep snow, so you may need to shovel a path for them to get out into the yard to do their business. 

If you do have a snow-loving pet in your house, beware of letting them off-leash after a newly fallen snow. Snow covers basic landmarks and smells, and this can be confusing for your dog. More dogs are lost in winter than any other season, partly because they cannot always find their way home. Deep snow can hide potholes and other perils that cause unsteady footing. Many a dog has been injured by dangers hidden under snow.


Bringing out the worst

Cold weather can exacerbate skin disease in furry friends, especially in houses with forced air heat.  If winter itch is affecting your family, consider adding humidifiers to help with dry air. Omega-3 fatty acids added to food can also alleviate your pet’s dry skin, but check with your vet about what is best for your pet. 

Cold weather can also make stiff joints a little more painful. If your dog or cat suffers from arthritis, pay special attention to their activities during the winter. You may need to alter their pain control protocol to account for cold weather aches and pains, so talk to your vet about keeping achy pets comfortable as winter settles in. 

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
vet tip of the week

Visit your vet at least once a year to keep your pet protected from preventable diseases.