According to a nationwide survey, only 10% of Americans claim winter as their favorite season. With the exception of double-coated draft and guardian dog breeds, the winter season is likely as unpopular with pets.

The winter season poses unique challenges and risks to our four-footed friends. Fortunately, common sense steps are all you need to keep your pet warm, cozy, and comfortable until spring arrives. By following our Central Houston Animal Hospital team’s five tips to protecting your pet from cold weather hazards, you may both change your minds about winter.

#1: Limit your pet’s outdoor time

When the days shorten and the mercury falls, you should reduce your pet’s outdoor time. Prolonged cold temperature exposure can put pets at risk for hypothermia (i.e., low body temperature), which can be mild or severe. You can mitigate this risk by supervising your pet at all times outdoors, and returning inside at the first indication that your pet is uncomfortable—such as a lifted paw or shivering. 

Indoor activities cannot perfectly replicate an adventure in the great outdoors. However, you can exercise your pet inside by playing these fun activities:

  • Scent-based games — Sniffing is naturally rewarding and tiring work for dogs and cats. Basic nosework games include snuffle mats, hide-and-seek with your pet’s favorite toy, and the muffin tin game
  • Treadmill training — Dogs and cats can be trained to enjoy walking on a treadmill. However, because this activity can initially unnerve some pets, work with a professional trainer to ensure your furry pal’s safety and confidence.
  • Dog daycare — Dog daycare is a great option for social dogs if you are short on time or have limited space for indoor activities.
  • Fitness exercises Pet fitness exercises derived from veterinary rehabilitation can give your pet a great low-impact core-strengthening workout. As with any exercise, talk to your veterinarian before trying this activity. 

#2: Create a cozy indoor resting place for your pet

Cold temperatures are more likely to affect senior pets and those suffering from certain health conditions. Chilly air and damp conditions can worsen arthritis pain and stiffness, while diseases, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and other endocrine disorders, can alter a pet’s ability to regulate their body temperature. These pets—and those who have a low body fat percentage—will seek out warmer indoor locations and may shiver in an attempt to generate heat.

To help your pet stay comfy and cozy, consider their preferred resting places. If a draft is coming from a nearby window or door, relocate their bed or blanket to a draft-free centrally located home area. In addition, press your hand on the bed’s cushion—if you can feel the floor beneath, give your pet a new bed.

#3: Dress your pet in a coat or sweater

Cold-sensitive pets may appreciate a coat or sweater to provide extra warmth and insulation from the chilly air. When shopping for pet apparel, look for a design that provides adequate coverage—ideally something with a high collar and that extends over your pet’s back and hips. Ensure the garment fits well and is neither loose or tight. Poorly fitted items can affect your pet’s mobility, restrict their breathing, and cause anxiety or stress.

If your pet isn’t accustomed to wearing clothes, gradually introduce the garment, and offer positive reinforcement such as treats and praise. As long as your pet appears comfortable, have them wear the clothing for incrementally longer periods.

#4: Check your pet’s skin and paws

Dry air, rough ice and snow, and ice melting chemicals can injure your pet’s paw pads, which may become irritated or cracked, or may bleed. Painful pets can worsen their injuries by incessantly licking the affected area. 

Check your pet’s paws frequently during the winter, and always wash and dry their feet after they have walked on treated surfaces. If their pads are dry or rough, apply a paw balm or petroleum jelly to provide moisture and a protective barrier. To decrease your pet’s irritant exposure and prevent them from slipping or falling, apply pet-safe ice melt products to your sidewalk, patio, and driveway. Dog boots (e.g., Muttluks, Ruffwear) can be beneficial if your pup has sensitive paws or you take them on long winter walks or hikes. 

#5: Securely store pet-toxic winter products

Antifreeze often contains ethylene glycol, an extremely toxic compound that can cause pets acute kidney failure and death. Dogs and cats are equally attracted to this sweet-flavored fluid, and equally vulnerable to its toxicity—doses as small as one teaspoon for cats and one tablespoon for dogs can result in a life-threatening condition. 

Ensure you store all ethylene glycol-containing products (e.g., antifreeze, windshield deicer, motor oil, brake fluid) in secure containers out of your pet’s reach. Immediately wipe up all spills, and dispose of rags in a closed container. If you and your pet are in unfamiliar garages or parking lots where leaked fluid may be present, closely monitor your furry pal. If your pet is exposed to ethylene glycol during our business hours, immediately contact our veterinary medical center. If your pet has ingested ethylene glycol at other times, consult our recommended emergency services website for emergency care.

As does every season, winter has its charms—although you may have to dig deeper to find them. On the other hand, you may decide to simply cozy up with your pet by following our winter safety tips, and hibernate until spring! For more cold weather safety strategies, or to schedule your pet’s veterinary care, contact Central Houston Animal Hospital.