Winter can be beautiful, but freezing temperatures make this season miserable for many people—and pets. Except for a handful of breeds specially bred to tolerate cold weather, pets lack physical protection from the cold and are in danger from snow, ice, and winter chemicals. MetroPet Veterinary Clinic offers a few tips to help you protect your pet from cold weather dangers this year.

#1: Understand your individual pet’s cold tolerance

If you have a small breed, or a senior, sparse-haired, or chronically ill pet, they are likely much more sensitive to cold than larger, thicker-coated, younger, and healthier pets. Sensitive pets can become uncomfortable at around 45 degrees, and most others feel cold at temperatures around or below freezing. Knowing your pet’s cold sensitivity will determine how much time they can safely spend outdoors, and whether they need protective gear (e.g., sweater, coat, boots). If you aren’t sure about your pet’s health status or cold tolerance, schedule a wellness examination and health assessment with our veterinary team.

#2: Limit outdoors time or stay inside

Sensitive pets should spend as little time as possible outdoors in cold weather, but those who tolerate cold well can walk or play in the yard longer. The colder the temperatures, the less time you should spend outside, so plan for indoor activities whenever possible. Use your own comfort level, along with your pet’s behavior, as a guide to decide when to go back inside—if you’re cold, so is your dog, and if they are shivering, limping, or pleading to be picked up, they are too cold. Too much time in the cold can lead to frostbite or life-threatening hypothermia.

#3: Never leave pets unattended in the cold

Pets who enjoy the cold and snow, such as the Siberian husky and Alaskan malamute , may choose to stay outside, regardless of the temperature. However, despite their enjoyment, never leave them outside unattended, and check on them every few minutes. 

#4: Eliminate ice around your home

Pets can easily slip, fall, and be injured on icy surfaces, and thick ice can crack and cut their feet. Use a pet-safe non-toxic ice melter on your driveway and sidewalks so your pet has the best traction possible. For older and arthritic pets who can easily lose their footing, you may also consider traction boots, grippy socks, or rubber nail grips to help them walk with more confidence.

#5: Keep foot hair trimmed and footpads healthy

Long hair around feet and between paw pads can trap dirt, ice, and chemical debris from outside, but trimming this hair short can reduce the accumulation and more easily let you see the condition of their paw pads. If your pet’s pads are becoming thick, crusty, or cracked, use a moisturizing paw pad butter or lotion to protect them from injury.

#6: Wipe down snow or ice-covered fur

Remove any ice and snow that accumulates in your pet’s fur or on their feet when you come inside to prevent your pet from licking and ingesting harmful chemicals (i.e., road salt) mixed in with the snow. Removing ice balls also keeps your pet more comfortable and allows them to warm up faster once they are inside.

#7: Prevent access to antifreeze

Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, and only a small amount can prove deadly for a dog or cat. While some antifreeze products now contain deterrents to prevent ingestion, many are sweet-tasting, and pets often decide to lap up spills. Keep pets away from areas where antifreeze may leak from vehicles or spill from containers. Seek emergency veterinary care or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline immediately if you suspect your pet ingested antifreeze.

#8: Properly identify your pet

Pets who wander away from home or get separated from their people can have a harder time finding their way back when snow obscures normal sights and smells. Ensure your pet has an up-to-date ID tag and always wears their collar outdoors. Microchipping is a more reliable, permanent identification that links you and your pet, and doesn’t rely on collars or tags that can fall off or be removed. 

Our cold safety tips can help you keep your pet safe, regardless of the weather outside. However, accidents can happen, and you should contact MetroPet Veterinary Clinic for assistance if your pet sustains a cold-weather accident, injury, or illness, or for a pre-winter physical exam.