Keeping Pets Safe in Cold Weather


Keeping pets safe in winter can be a challenge. Some dogs delight romping in the snow and appear as impervious to frigid temperatures as snow is to polar bears.

Malamutes, Great Pyrenees, Huskies and many other large dogs seem friskier in weather that chills us to the bone.

On the other paw, Toy Poodles and Chihuahuas would hop on a plane and head to Hawaii or Mexico to escape the cold, if they could. With around only seven or eight percent body fat, Greyhounds, Whippets, Salukis and other sighthounds are particularly prone to the dangers associated with cold weather, a problem which most of us wish we shared.

There’s No Magic Number

There’s no absolute rule about a magic number temperature that is too cold. So much depends on a dog’s breed, the individual dog, how acclimated the dog is to the cold and the dog’s age. As in elderly people, even very senior Huskies may become chilled in extreme weather. Puppies, of course, have less protection.

I suggest dogs 20 lbs. and under do need a coat when the temperature also falls to freezing or for sure 20 degrees or colder. Even some larger breeds, due to lean bodies and/or little fur to protect, will appreciate a coat, such as the Boxer, Dalmatian, Vizsla, Weimaraner and many mixed breeds, including many pit bull-type dogs.

One argument against dogs wearing coats is, “Back in the day, great grandpa’s dog managed in a doghouse – which wasn’t even heated.”

Yes, the dog managed, but did the dog suffer?

Besides, today so many dogs are indoors – the bed has replaced the doghouse. Most dogs may not be as acclimated to the cold as they once were.

High-Style and Staying Warm

Wearing a dog coat isn’t only about warmth, it may also be about fashion. Hoodies are popular, faux fur-lined hoods and even knock-off designers like Burberry’s distinct tartan pattern. Also, your pet can represent your favorite sports team with a sweat shirt showing off just about any pro or college team logo.

Often people somehow don’t believe dogs and cats suffer frostbite, but they can. Most vulnerable are their extremities, such as tips of tails and ears. So far, no one has developed canine earmuffs or a “tail glove,” so until that happens – it’s an adult’s job to determine when enough time outside is enough.

And that can be challenging, as some dogs – being dogs – will romp and play outside longer than they should, especially if you’re playing along. As for cats, who knows there they are off to. Keeping them indoors all together is the safest way to go.

Some dogs love diving into the snow, of course – they get wet and cold just as we do when playing in the snow. That’s fine, to a point.

Stop Stinging Paws

The combination of ice and cold weather and snow, and especially with street salt added to the mix, will sting dog paws. Little ice balls can form between the paw pads, and this hurts – which is why dogs sometimes hop in the cold.

There are three possible solutions for this problem:

  • Booties: Some say they’re not “manly,” but sled dogs now wear booties, and so do macho working search and rescue dogs going over rough terrain. If it’s good enough for them – it’s good enough for your pup. More people have more luck with Velcro to keep the booties on.
  • Various products like Musher’s Secret (available online and at many pet stores) and even spraying unflavored no-stick cooking spray (such as Pam) on dog’s paws will deter snow and ice from sticking to paw pads when not using booties.
  • Pet friendly salt: Some pets get upset tummies licking traditional salt off their paws, and traditional salt does sting dog paws. Pet friendly salts are also safer for the environment.

Keeping Cats Safe May be Keeping Cats Indoors

As for cats, there are always dangers to being outdoors, but it’s particularly true when temperatures plunge. The good news is that cats are pretty resourceful at finding warmth. But that’s also the bad news.  To a cat seeking heat, a warm car hood is like a cozy electric blanket to slink into. As a result, veterinarians in cold weather climates too often treat cats seriously mangled (some don’t survive) when innocently starting car engines. It’s not a bad idea to follow Tony Orlando’s advice; knock three times on the car hood in the morning before turning on the ignition.

Desperate for water which isn’t frozen, outdoor cats may drink anything they can find. And antifreeze is always tempting for pets. Less than a quarter a cup of antifreeze can kill a Great Dane, and a teaspoon’s worth can end the life of a small dog or a cat. Anti-freeze products marketed as pet-friendly are safer; these brands contain bittering agents which make it taste unpleasant, so pets aren’t tempted to sample.

That Pond May Not be Frozen

A common concern, particularly as the weather hovers from just below freezing up to the 30’s, are ponds, rivers and lakes, and that includes retention ponds in condominium complexes. The ice may not be as solid as you think. Every year there are instances of dogs falling through thin ice, and worse people succumbing attempting to rescue pets.

Cold weather can be challenging for some pets and a whole lot of fun for others – no matter, we need to do our best to keep them all safe.