Contributed by: Dr. Lisa Thompson, Emergency & Critical Care Veterinary Specialist

While cold weather can seem like a great time to get some fresh crisp air and avoid having to battle bugs or crowds, it can have some hidden dangers for pets.

What is danger?

An obvious consideration is an injury to the paws of a pet. In conditions with snow and ice, it can stick in their fur and cause irritation to the skin between the pads.  It can also cause skin injury from cold thermal burns that result from the fluid in the cells freezing and crystalizing.  Salt on the walkways can also cause irritation to the feet.  When pets go to lick the deicing material from their feet, they can cause chemical burns to their tongue as well.

Pets left out in the cold too long can develop frostbite and hypothermia. Pets with underlying medical conditions may be more susceptible to cold related injuries.   Consider arthritis in older dogs and patients with other disorders can have thin skin.

Cats who are outdoors will sometimes climb under the hood of the car to get next to the engine for warmth.

If your pet is involved in winter sports such as Skijoring, additional dangers may exist such as cuts from the skis and muscle injury if a dog is not conditioned for such an activity.

In cold weather, people are more likely to use products such as antifreeze that can leak from a vehicle or spill while being poured.

On the other side of the spectrum fire side gatherings can be common and pets can experience burns from sparks or hot edges.  Heaters in homes can also pose a danger as pets can burn themselves or can tip over an unsecure heater causing a danger for the whole house.

Symptoms

  • Limping
  • Lethargy
  • Cuts
  • Disorientation
  • Shivering

What To Do

  • Keep pets on a leash when out walking to avoid inadvertent ingestions, excursions on to ice or them becoming scared and getting lost.
  • For lacerations keep the cut clean and a bandage should be applied until you are able to seek veterinary assistance.
  • Use pet friendly antifreeze and deicers. While these can still be toxic in large quantities, they are less toxic than the standard product.   They are also less appealing for pets to drink.
  • Make noise, such as banging loudly on the hood, prior to starting your vehicle to try to ensure there is not a cat warming themselves there.
  • Coats or sweaters can help keep your pet warm while out enjoying the winter weather. If a pet is staying outdoors, ensure they have a warm dry bed off the ground and out of the wind.
  • When a pet is hypothermic, warm them slowly. You can use a lubricated electronic rectal thermometer to take their temperature.  A normal cat or dog temperature should be 100.4 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If less than 99.5 degrees the pet should be warmed.  Stop active warming at 100 but keep them in a warm location.  Warm air can be useful.   Items with direct heat against the skin can cause hot thermal burns so more generalized warming such as warm blankets or a hair drier held at a safe distance are safer. If their core temperature is lower than 98.5 degrees take them to a veterinarian for assistance

What NOT To Do

  • Do NOT let your pet lick puddles of unknown substances
  • Do NOT clean wounds with irritating substance such as hydrogen peroxide.
  • Do not assume that pets are more cold resistant than their human family members.

Prevention

  • When coming in from a walk clean your pets’ paws to avoid continued skin irritation
  • Consider booties or other protective gear when taking your pet out in cold weather
  • Work pets into training regimens slowly and steadily
  • A chip can help relocate lost pets

Additional Resources