Winter presents many risks for pets: colder weather, ice, dangerous winter storms, and chemicals to melt snow and ice. Whether you have an indoor cat, an outdoor dog, or some combination of indoor and outdoor pets, it’s important to know the tips and tricks of winter dog safety and winter cat safety. Here’s your guide for keeping your pet cozy and safe this season.
General Winter Risks for Dogs and Cats
While there are some specific tips for winter dog safety and winter cat safety, there are also some general pet risks to keep in mind during the colder part of the year:
- Don’t forget your pet when preparing for power outages
- Be careful with antifreeze
- Reduce bath time
- Maintain a steady health routine
- Remember animals that don’t belong to you, too
Pet Supplies Should Be Included in Your Winter Storm Planning
One serious risk of these colder months is a winter storm that leaves your home without power, and therefore without heat, electricity, or possibly running water. While many families plan for these occurrences each year, it’s easy to forget that your pet will need some supplies, too.
When putting together your storm preparedness plan, don’t forget to include extra blankets, water, and food for your cat or dog. If you’re unable to leave the house, you want to ensure that everyone – your pet included – has what they need until help arrives.
Chemicals Are a Major Risk for Cats and Dogs in the Winter
Antifreeze is a miraculous tool that is often used in cars to keep them running smoothly when the temperatures drop below freezing. Unfortunately, it is a major risk for cats and dogs because it has a naturally sweet taste. If there’s an antifreeze spill or your pet finds an open or leaking jug, it’s likely they’ll try to drink it.
Most antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is extremely toxic to both dogs and cats. It can cause kidney damage and easily kill an animal of any size. Perhaps our most important winter safety tip for dogs and cats is this: Keep antifreeze products away from your pet and clean up any spills immediately. Propylene glycol antifreeze is a less toxic option, but still presents a risk for pets.
Another chemical risk for pets in the winter is the hand warmers that we keep in our gloves and shoes to keep our extremities warm. These little packets are made with iron, which can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities by dogs or cats.
The salt we use to melt snow and ice on sidewalks can also be risky for our pets, causing kidney issues if ingested. If you have to use it, consider a pet-safe deicing product, or keep your pet off salted sidewalks and make sure it’s all swept up before letting your animal roam freely.
Bath Time Is More Negotiable in the Winter
While bathing is an important part of your pet’s hygiene, it can take a backseat in the winter months. You should still bathe your pet occasionally, but you don’t need to keep up the same regular routine as you did in the summer. Even if you’re very thorough about drying your pet, they will be wet and cold for at least a little while after their bath. While this isn’t risky in the summertime, it might bring your pet’s body temperature too low in the winter.
Pets are spending less time outside in the dirt and elements, and therefore don’t need to be bathed as much in the winter. Plus, bathing your pet can sometimes cause additional dryness and exacerbate the issue of irritated skin that becomes more prevalent in winter.
Maintain Your Pet’s Immune System Year-Round for Winter Health Protection
Maintaining your cat or dog’s general health and wellness will support their immune system, which often has to fight a little harder in the winter. If you’ve established a proper diet and exercise schedule for your pet, it will be easier for them to fight off respiratory infections and viruses that are more prevalent in the cold months.
It’s also worth considering that some pets will need to eat more in the winter months. Especially for dogs who are still maintaining an active lifestyle, long walks in the winter require more energy than long walks in the summer. You might want to talk to your veterinarian about increasing your pet’s daily food allowances in the colder season.
Stray Cats and Dogs Need Winter Protection, Too
Winter cat safety and winter dog safety are about more than just the pets that live in our homes. We all need to come together as a community to protect the dogs, cats, and other small animals that don’t have owners.
One easy way to do this is by checking under your car’s hood for small animals in the winter. Wheel wells and the engine block are often a warm refuge for feral cats and other small wild animals. If you start your engine or move your car while an animal is located there, it can hurt or kill them. You can lift the hood and look around or simply give your car a few loud bangs with a fist to signal to any cozied-up animals that they need to evacuate.
Winter Cat Safety Tips
We advocate for keeping your cats inside for as much of their lives as possible, because it dramatically increases their lifespan. But even indoor cats might face some winter changes to their environment that could be risky. Here are some tips for keeping your feline friend safe in the cold season:
- Secure the perimeter
- Keep them hydrated and moisturized
- Eliminate the risk of fire
Ensure Windows and Doors Are Secure So Your Cat Doesn’t Escape
Indoor cats are only safe indoors, so it’s important to keep them that way. One of the most important winter cat safety techniques is securing the perimeter of your home – both doors and windows – so your feline doesn’t accidentally escape.
Especially if you change out your screens for glass storm windows, be sure the storm windows are super secure and your cat can’t push them out with their paws. Keep doors and windows securely shut at all times and be mindful of your cat’s location when entering and exiting the home.
Still, accidents happen. Keep your cat’s identification tags on them at all times, even when you’re just hanging out at home. For peace of mind, it’s vital to microchip your pet and keep your contact information current. If they escape during cold weather, time will be of the essence in finding them and getting them home safely. Having a microchip might save your cat from hours of cold exposure.
Winter Cat Safety Means Protecting Your Feline from the Dry Air
The air is dryer in the winter months, and that means you’ll need to make some extra effort to keep your cat hydrated and moisturized. You might consider getting a humidifier for your home if the air is especially dry, as it can irritate your pet’s nose and throat. You’ll also want to make sure your cat’s water bowl stays full, as they might be drinking more in the winter to stay hydrated.
Space Heaters and Fireplaces Present a Winter Risk for Cats
Cats love to cozy up in warm spots like beside heaters and fireplaces. While this can be an effective way for your feline to keep warm and shouldn’t necessarily be discouraged, you should ensure that your heating devices are all properly installed and secured.
Old space heaters might have damage to their cords that could present a fire risk – check your heater carefully and make sure it’s in proper working order. You might consider buying a new one if it’s especially old. If you have a fireplace, make sure the grate is far enough away from the fire to protect your cat and also ensure it’s secure so your cat can’t knock it over.
Winter Dog Safety Tips
Even indoor dogs will need to go outside occasionally for exercise, so here are some winter dog safety tips to protect them from the elements:
- Practice safe walking habits
- Don’t over-groom
- For outdoor dogs, make sure the dog house is warm and secure
How to Walk Your Dog in Winter Weather
Dogs still need fresh air, even in the coldest weather. While it’s okay to skip the occasional walk in the winter, you should try to keep your dog’s exercise schedule as normal as possible to keep them healthy.
Consider investing in some outdoor gear for your pet to make walks more pleasant in the winter. This may include a nice set of waterproof booties for your pet’s feet or a heavy jacket. If your pet doesn’t use booties, always clean and dry your pet’s paws when you return from a walk to ensure there is no damage from ice or salt. You might also apply a balm before and after the walk to keep their paw pads moisturized, protected, and supple.
Another crucial part of winter dog safety is always using a leash. Snow can disorient your pet, which can make it more difficult for them to find home if they get lost. Also, it’s possible that they’ll end up on dangerously thin ice – literally – if they go off exploring in the winter months. Even if you let your dog off leash sometimes, keep the leash attached for winter walks.
Proper Winter Grooming Can Keep Your Dog Safe and Healthy
Your dog’s thick coat is vital to keeping them safe and healthy in the winter months. Caring for this coat should be a priority for winter dog safety.
Winter coat care will be slightly different from summer coat care, though some things will remain the same (like brushing your dog regularly). Always let your dog’s thick coat stay long and fluffy – never shave your dog in the winter months. If your dog has long hair, they will likely get ice, snow, and other substances tangled in their fur if they play outside. Be sure to remove any foreign bodies from your pet’s coat so it can continue to provide warmth.
Keep the Dog House Warm and Cozy
If you have dogs who live outside or spend extensive time outdoors, they definitely need to have a safe, warm shelter where they can retreat. Dogs should never be left exposed to the elements with nowhere to go.
If you have a dog house, ensure it’s draft-free with a heavy door flap that blocks wind and precipitation. The house should be slightly raised, providing an insulating layer of air between the structure’s floor and the cold ground. Covering the floor with straw or cedar shavings will provide additional insulation. The house should also be large enough for your pet to lie down.
And if your area is expecting severe winter weather or freezing temperatures, bring your dog inside somewhere safe and warm. If it’s too cold for you outside, it’s too cold for them.
Winter Pet Safety Is About More Than Staying Warm
While keeping your pet warm will be a priority this season, now you know that this cold season presents many other risks for your pets. Winter dog safety and winter cat safety are achieved through awareness and preparedness. If you know the dangers, you can protect your pet against them and ensure a cozy and safe winter season.