This post may contain affiliate links, please check out our disclosure policy for more details.
Aside from the festivities and the long holiday, you probably don’t like winter.
You are not alone!
No one enjoys shoveling snow off of their car before moving, putting on more clothes than necessary to keep warm, or dealing with the stress that comes with the festive season – aah family dinners.
If it is that uneasy for us, imagine what it is like for our pet.
Where we can put on more clothes to feel warm, their coat alone isn’t enough to protect them from the harsh cold. Their routine is no longer useful. And, they have to stare at the depressing greyness outside like every other person.
Is there anything we can do, as pet owners, to help them adapt to the season?
What can we do to make them feel more comfortable? Are there any seasonal dangers that we have to protect them from?
These are questions we are going to answer in this guide. Let’s look at the dangers of the winter season.
The dangers of the winter season.
The winter season comes with 3 important concerns that you need to watch out for. They are:
Hypothermia (extremely low core body temperature).
Where Summer causes pets to overheat and suffer heat stroke, winter does the opposite.
Hypothermia occurs when pets are exposed to cold temperatures for a long time. The signs of hypothermia are shivering, paleness, and lethargy. In extreme cases, the shivering ends but the pet progresses into a comatose state. This is similar to an animal suffering a heat stroke in the summer.
Frostbite is when skin cells freeze to death.
It commonly affects body parts that extend out from the mid-section, such as the nose, tail, ear tips, and paws of cats and dogs after exposure to extreme cold. The skin on these areas often looks pale, gray, or bluish-white and feels firm and colder than surrounding skin.
Another major concern that comes with the cold season is the danger of poisoning and toxicity.
It is common to spot skin rash between the footpads of dogs and cats during the winter season. This is usually caused by salt and ice-melt products applied on snow.
Antifreeze toxicity is another health risk associated with this time of the year. All it takes to kill a cat is only a few drops. This means you need to be mindful of any leaks and spills when adding antifreeze to your vehicle.
Now you know what to expect from the season, how can you prepare your pets for winter?
5 Winter preparation tips for pets owners.
There’s a lot of planning involved when preparing your pet for winter. For some of them, you need to prepare long before the snow thickens.
We’ll start with…
Paws bear most of the damage, especially if you have an outdoor-indoor cat or a dog that doesn’t mind playing in the snow.
If you cannot get your pet to wear snow boots, then make sure to trim the hairs between the paw pads. These hairs get wet and stay wet long after your pet has come indoors. Keep it short and neat, but not bald.
After walking your dog or when your outdoor cat returns home, don’t let it lick the snow on its paws. Clean mud and snow from the paws using a paw cleaner. I like the Dexas MudBuster for this purpose since it’s easy to carry around and clean after use.
Alternatively, you can just wash your pet’s paws with warm water and dry them with a clean towel.
City cats and dogs need something oily to grease their paw and prevent salt from drying them out. Vaseline, coconut oil, or balm works just fine, however, they shouldn’t lick it!
Massage the coconut or olive oil, Vaseline, or paw pad protector into the paw before leaving and when you return.
Dry skin is a major concern during the winter season. Dry skin and fur can irritate your dog or cat’s skin causing them to continuously scratch and create hot spots. These are scabs and lesions caused by excessive biting and licking.
You can prevent this by bathing your pet less often to preserve the natural protective oil produced by their body.
If your pet manages to get stinking, I recommend using a Wahl Pet-friendly dry shampoo to get rid of any odors, especially on pets that do not like bathing.
Please whatever you do, do not trim your pet’s coat. You can brush to remove matted hair and to make it look neat. However, if your pet is a short-haired breed or already has a thin coat, do not hesitate to get it a warm sweater.
Nose, ears, and tail.
Aside from the paws, a pet’s nose, ears, and tail are also susceptible to frostbite.
You do not have to cover all of these areas – actually, I’d be impressed if you found a way to do so. When your pet is done playing or doing their business outside, make sure to dry their ears, nose, and tail.
This will help prevent ear infection and also keep them from falling sick due to the cold and wetness.
Stock food, treats – and cat litter
Hey! We both know how unpredictable the winter season can be. A blizzard might come visiting just when you planned to go get some food.
What can you do to avoid being caught off guard?
Stock up on pet food, treats, and cat litter – that’s if you’ve got cats. Get enough food to last you 3 weeks. When you have used up a week’s worth of food, replenish your food store with another 2 weeks’ worth of food.
This system ensured I had enough (backup) pet food during the CoVid19 lockdown. It will get you through winter without a hitch.
Another important tip.
Most stores know that pet owners stock up on pet food during winter, so they push the old pet food forward. This forces you to play catch-up with the expiry date – and I hate that.
I found a sneaky way around this [wink]
When you’re shopping for pet food reach inside and pick from the back of the shelf. Those usually have a longer shelf-life.
Increase calorie intake.
Keeping warm takes energy and your pet will need some extra, especially if it is playing outside in the cold.
Don’t be afraid to toss some extra in the food bowl to make up for the energy used in generating heat. BTW, you can replace dry food with wet food (do so gradually) since it takes less energy to digest.
Unfortunately, wet food freezes too easily when exposed – yeah I know, pros and cons.
Don’t take this advice if you have a lazy indoor cat or an inactive dog so they don’t put on unnecessary weight.
Keep food and water warm.
You know that feeling you get when you drink a chill bottle of water on a hot day? Or that inner warmth that radiates outwards when you drink a warm cup of coffee on a cold day?
It feels awesome, doesn’t it? Do not deny your pet that.
Maintaining pet drinking water at a warm temperature during the winter is not difficult. You can manually add warm water to their drinking bowl or use an auto-off, plugged-in heated water dish to keep from freezing.
Before feeding your pet, put the food in the microwave for a couple of minutes to get it warm.
Another smart thing you can do is to place the food and water bowl where it won’t freeze. I recommend a durable and non-slip silicone food bowl like the URPOWER Pet Food Bowl to prevent rapid heat loss.
Practice proper waste management.
Cats have it easy, their litter box stays inside where it is warm.
Dogs on the other hand have to potty outside most of the time. If you can, designate a potty station outside, preferably a spot that is protected from the wind.
A warm dog will pee or poop faster than one that is cold, so ensure to keep your dog warm when heading out.
It would be great if you put down anything that can help insulate your dog’s paw from the cold ground. Some wood shavings or straw sound great. However, an artificial turf (doormat or an old car foot mat) that your dog can stand on works to fine – you can hose it off or discard it after winter.
Consider setting up a potty box in the house if the weather outside is too cold to pee outside.
3. Health and fitness.
You might be stuck indoors for days without access to a vet. Now is a great time to get your pet’s health checked.
Make sure your pet has no skin issue and their heart and kidneys are okay. If they have fleas, try to treat the flea problem with the best flea product you can find. Fleas and other blood-sucking parasites tend to make up for the low temperature by sucking even more blood.
While you’re at it, confirm your pet’s worming schedule. If your pet is taking any regular medications, make sure that you have enough in-store and the necessary scripts.
Update all vaccination and talk to your vet to know those that can be deferred in case you are stuck inside. Confirm that your pet’s microchip is in place and is functional. A pet can get lost when we least expect it to happen, a microchip and updated tag can help you find your missing pet.
Remember, preparing your older pet for winter is quite different from preparing a young one. Cold weather worsens conditions such as arthritis, kennel cough and other lung issues.
Exercise and stimulation.
Exercise and stimulation is an important consideration when preparing your pet for winter. It is snowing outside and you are bundled up indoors, but that doesn’t mean your pet will not get bored.
Find a couple of sturdy dog toys that will get your dog moving or get some toys for your bored cat. You may as well get something for yourself. You do not know how long you’ll be cut from the internet when a blizzard hits the power line.
When winter comes, the toxins come out!
Winter is that time of the year when everywhere is covered with toxins. If it is not salt on snow, it is antifreeze lying carelessly or toxic potted plants brought inside to keep alive.
These three (salt, antifreeze, and toxic plants) are very dangerous.
And because you may not be able to rush your pet to the vet in the snow, without putting yourself and the pet in danger, you are better off avoiding these toxins.
If you will be going outdoors with your dog, get him a snow boot to prevent salted snow from damaging his paw pads. Use stimulating cat toys to entice outdoor cats to stay inside.
By keeping your pet indoors where you can monitor them, you will reduce the risk of them being exposed to salt and antifreeze. Take the necessary precautions if you also bring potted plants inside. Some of them can be toxic to dogs or cats (or both).
Be careful with laundry chemicals, especially soap. Cats in particular are curious enough to drink liquid soap. It may not kill them, but it can cause gastrointestinal issues.
Remember, you may not be able to rush your pet to the vet!
Watch out for hypothermia and frostbite.
Pets such as cats and dogs should never be exposed to extreme cold for too long. That’s because their core body temperature, which is usually 101-102.5°F, drastically drops and more often than not leads to death.
Here are the symptoms of hypothermia you need to look out for:
Symptoms of hypothermia in cats and dogs.
- Shivering (usually violent as the body tries to generate heat), followed by listlessness.
- Stiff muscle, especially in the limbs and tail.
- Weak pulse.
- Pale and dry skin.
- Poor appetite.
- Shortness of breath.
- Rectal temperature below 98°F.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Cardiac arrest and death.
Symptoms of frostbite in cats and dogs.
Frostbite is very similar to hypothermia, the only difference being that frostbite affects specific body parts. For cats and dogs, this may involve the paws, ears, scrotum, tail, or paw pads. Watch out for
- Bluish-gray or pale skin.
- Pain in the tail, ears, or paws when you touch these parts.
- Wrinkles on skin.
- Stiff skin and muscles.
Treatment of hypothermia and frostbite.
- Take your pet into a shelter immediately.
- Wrap your pet in a thick cloth or warm blanket. You can put blankets in the dryer for a few minutes to get them warm. Or move them close to the fireplace or radiator.
- Do not rub the warm blanket or cloth over their body, you might cause more damage.
- Your pet needs instant nutrients for its system to burn and create heat. Offer them a warm solution of sugar and four teaspoons of honey to drink.
- You can cover your pet’s limbs with socks to prevent further heat loss.
- Turn boiling water into a plastic bottle and place the bottle in a thick towel. Use the towel to massage your pet’s abdomen and other affected areas, making sure not to burn the skin there.
- Call your veterinarian for further instructions.
It’s best to protect your animals from hypothermia and frostbite rather than manage it because certain damages are irreversible. A dry and warm shelter protected from the wind will do outdoor animals a lot of good.
Many people do not have a large barn or chicken coop for the dog or outdoor cat to sleep in. You need to provide a warm place for your pet to sleep if it is spending time outdoors. Make sure it is safe and secure from violent winds.
Add a warm pad for your pet to lie on when it needs to raise its body temperature. I recommend using an auto-power off warming pad with chew-proof wires like the RIOGOO Pet Warming Pad for this purpose.
This alone is usually enough, however, if you can add further insulation to their shelter, do it!
It is easy for you to put on extra clothes when you start feeling some chills. However, your dog or cat does not have such a luxury.
You can make winter cozier for them by offering them a spare blanket to burrow into – you likely won’t get this back so… choose wisely. Another thing that helps is lifting your pet’s bed from the floor since drafts often whistle into the house through the gap under the door. This will also prevent heat loss to the floor.
Watch out for predators.
Most cats are unable to hunt during the winter, the same is true of other predators such as coyotes and foxes. Be careful lest they snag your dog or cat. Make sure any outdoor shelter you set up is protected from these sorts of threats.
Before we move on to the fifth step on the list, I have a small request
5. Going outside.
Check the hood!
Stray and feral cats often bundle up in the wheel well or under the engine of cars. If you start a car and move immediately, you might severely hurt a cat that was sleeping there. So always bang the hood, honk, or rev loudly to wake any sleepy heads and give them a chance to escape before moving.
Leave pets at home.
Leaving a pet in a car parked outside is dangerous, it doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter. Cars are metal things and metal transfers heat or cold rapidly. If your pet doesn’t need to tag along, don’t carry them.
Pets (and people) can be difficult to spot in time during winter’s darker days and longer nights. I recommend getting a reflective collar that doesn’t bleed for outdoor cats or a dog LED collar to make your pet visible.
Get reflective wear for yourself too and keep your pet close. Since the snow masks scents, it will be difficult for them to find their way back home if they get lost.
A shout out to the outdoor cat.
It’s one thing to be cold, but being cold and wet is something else entirely. If there are feral cats in your community, remember that winter will affect them worse than it will ever affect you.
Try to help feral and stray cats the best you can this winter. It could be something as simple as a warm place to sleep or a plate of food to keep them going.
And lastly, don’t forget to…
Many people do not know the dangers of cold weather on their pets or livestock. If you come across a pet stranded in the cold, get the attention of the owner and let them in on your concern. Chances are, they didn’t know better and will quickly correct the problem.
If they don’t do anything about it, then report to the appropriate authorities.
Caring for pets when things get frosty doesn’t take much effort. All that is required is planning for the winter long before it arrives.
Just like us, our pets need warmth, food, good shelter, and care. When winter’s chill forces you to bundle up indoors, do not forget your furry pals and their simple needs.
So, it’s now your turn. Tell us how you keep your pets warm during the long and cold winter months in the comments below.