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Pets & Winter Care: Protect Your Pet

By Colleen Williams
November 27, 2018 • 3 min. read
Dog and snow

Last updated Nov. 12, 2020

As the temperatures drop this holiday season, give your pet a little extra warmth with these winter pet tips.

Fend Off Frostbite

Prolonged exposure to the bitter wind and snow can cause frostbite, which occurs when part of the body freezes. Sensitive areas unprotected by fur are the most vulnerable to frostbite in pets. Depending on the temperature outside, frostbite can develop in as little as 30 minutes or less, especially if your pet gets wet.

“We’ve had dogs that have come in with frostbite on their ears, specifically on their nose, on the pads of their feet, those are the areas, and the tip of the tail,” says Lauren Fox, executive director of All Breed Rescue and Training, a shelter in chilly Colorado Springs. “Those tend to be the areas that get frostbite.”

Outdoor cats have an even greater risk of feline frostbite occurring. Remember that walking through snow soaks fur and paws, decreasing body temperature. Keep both cats and dogs indoors, and be prepared to also set up a cat door or heated shelter.

Dress Appropriately for the Cold

Older pets and those with shorter and thinner coats are especially vulnerable to cold temperatures. Help your pet stay warm on those colder days outside by fitting them with a jacket or sweater and booties, if necessary.

Adjust Outdoors Time

It’s a common myth that all animals are naturally more resistant to cold because of their fur coats, says Sarah Reyes of the Everett Animal Shelter in Washington. Think about it—Chihuahuas and Persians weren’t built for subzero temperatures, although your Maine Coon or Husky mix might be. Tolerance of winter temperatures and their conditions varies by your pet’s breed, age, existing conditions, and what climate they’re acclimated to. “Shortening walks can be really important, adding clothing; a jacket and booties can really helpful for those short-cut dogs,” advises Nicole Nolte, Operations Director of the Missoula Humane Society in Montana.

Avoid Winter Hazards

Deicers, antifreeze, and salt are all useful to help us get through those frosty months, but they can present serious hazards to our pets. Keep chemicals well out of paws’ reach, and be sure to wipe your pet’s paws after outside walks where they may have stepped on salt or other chemicals.

Provide a Safe Shelter During Extended Playtime Outside

For those pets who enjoy the great outdoors, set up a warm, well-insulated area for breaks during playtime that includes a roof to keep snow or rain from falling onto bedding. Staying warm burns more calories so your pooch may be thirsty too, so provide plenty of fresh water back inside so it doesn’t freeze. Yep, even if your dog loves the outdoors, they must come inside to prevent major illnesses like hypothermia and frostbite. “If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia,” urges the American Veterinary Medical Association to cold weather pet parents.

Enjoy the wintry wonderland with your pets—just from the warmth and safety of your home. Even dogs that are well-suited to cold climates should still have limited outdoors time to prevent getting sick or injured. Outdoor pets should be brought inside, but if it’s unavoidable, provide your pet with a warm shelter, fresh water and cozy bedding.

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colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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