Keep Your Pets Safe and Warm this Winter


Many people are aware of pet-related dangers and health risks associated with hot summer months, but winter weather can be just as hazardous. Cold and freezing conditions present a different array of risks and physical dangers. Always monitor your pets when they are outside. Check out these common winter weather risks and useful tips to help keep them safe, warm and healthy.

Cold Tolerances Vary; Know Your Pet’s Limits
Animals have varying tolerances to cold weather based on age, health, type/breed and size. Pets who are elderly, very young or have health issues may have more difficulty regulating their body temperatures. Some may find it tougher to walk on ice or snow. Consider shortening the time they spend outdoors or on walks. Coats, sweaters or booties may provide added comfort and warmth.

Chapped Paws & Itchy Skin
Exposure to dry, cold air and rain, sleet and snow can create discomfort and cause injury. Check paws for cracked or bleeding pads and redness between toes. Look for dry, flaky skin. Bring a towel on walks to wipe irritants from paws and clear ice and snow from between toes. Towel dry your pet as soon as they get inside, with special attention to paws, toes, legs and belly. Bathe your pets as little as possible as shampoos and soaps can remove body oils essential to maintaining healthy, hydrated skin and hair.

Coats & Jackets Provide Protection
Ice, salt and chemicals can irritate and dry skin. Wearing a coat or sweater outside can protect your pet’s body. Consider a waterproof coat for wet and icy conditions, something with a high collar or turtleneck and covers the entire stomach and back. Use a dry sweater/coat each time your pet goes outside; wet or damp coats can quickly chill his/her body temp. If you don’t have a coat, thoroughly clean/dry your pet upon returning home.

Chemicals Are Toxic & Deadly
De-icing chemicals can be hazardous and deadly if pets lick them from bare paws, legs and belly. Petroleum jelly or paw protectants applied before heading outside can allay or reduce irritation and damage. Booties are also an option, but ensure they fit properly. Use pet-friendly de-icing agents whenever possible. Wipe down or wash your pet’s paws, legs and belly to remove these chemicals.

Hypothermia & Frostbite
Despite common perceptions, animals are quite susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. Those with longer, thicker coats may have a better tolerance for cold but no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in freezing weather. If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet.

Signs of hypothermia include: whining, shivering, anxiety, slows or stops on walks and general weakness. They may look for a warm place to burrow. Frostbite is harder to detect and may not be noticed until after damage is already done. As with people, usually extremities are affected first (feet, ears, nose, tail). If you suspect either condition, consult your vet immediately. Do not put your pet in hot water or rub the affected area; it can exacerbate damage or harm your pet.

Inside, Provide a Warm Place to Rest
When inside, provide a warm place to sleep or lie down; a cozy dog or cat bed or warm blanket or pillow will reduce direct contact with a cold floor. If you have birds, keep them away from drafty, cold windows and doors. Pets adjust their location based on their need for greater or less warmth. Ever notice how cats sleep in higher, tighter spaces when it’s colder?

Pets Burn Extra Energy to Stay Warm
Like people, pets naturally burn extra energy to maintain their body temperature. Be sure they have enough food and water to compensate for the extra calorie consumption (or less if they are less active during winter) and stay hydrated. Careful not to provide too much extra food as this can lead to associated health risks.

Cars Can Be Like Refrigerators
Most people are aware how quickly heat is trapped inside cars in warmer months and cause pets to dangerously overheat. In winter, the opposite can happen: Cars retain the cold and pets can just as easily suffer cold-related disorders or freeze to death. Never leave your pet unattended inside a cold car. Try to leave them at home in extreme temperatures.

Collars & Microchips
Many pets get lost in winter. Snow and ice can hide recognizable scents that aid in them finding their way home. Ensure your pet has a well-fitted collar. Microchipping is also very popular. Keeping registration and contact info up-to-date is essential in getting your pet back home if they are found.

Cold-Weather Emergency Kit
If you have an emergency kit ready for your home or car, don’t forget about preparing one for your pets. It’s recommended you have enough for five days and include, at least: food, water, medicines and supplies.

Pet-Proof Your Home
Walk through your home to determine potential hazards (household chemicals, toxic plants, food, etc.). Fireplaces and space heaters create additional dangers. Animals can suffer singed fur or burns. Heaters could be knocked over and start a fire. Always keep an eye on your animals to avoid accidents. Consider putting a screen in front of your fireplace.

Outdoor Pets & Animals
Some pets and animals remain outside. Read on for safety tips to help get them through the winter.

Provide Shelter
Proper shelter against cold, wind, rain, ice and snow is a must. Shelters should be appropriately sized to allow animals to maintain body heat. Covered doors keep wind from funneling in and leak-proof roofs keep inside dry and warm.

The floor should be off the ground. Bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly. Avoid heaters and use caution with heated mats as these can cause burns.

Animals need water just like people so check their water regularly to ensure it is fresh and not frozen. Solar-powered water dishes can be purchased to keep water from freezing.

Vehicle Engines Are Warm
Many outdoor cats find shelter under the hood of your car. The warm engine and small, cozy space allow them to stay warm and retain body heat. Before starting your car, check underneath it and make some noise: bang on the car hood and honk your horn to scare off, and save, any feline refugees.

Prevent Poisoning
Antifreeze is a common threat to animals. It has a sweet smell which often attracts them. Just a few tablespoons can put your pet’s life in grave danger. Clean up spills and excess antifreeze immediately. Make sure all containers are closed tightly. (This goes for all household chemicals and medicines.) The ASPCA recommends using products that contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.


Pets rely on us to keep them safe and shielded from nature’s elements. Winter weather presents many potential dangers and threats to their well-being but fortunately they have you to help protect them and keep them safe, dry and warm.

If you come across any animal that appears injured or in need of emergency care, contact the Fairfax County Police Department’s Animal Control Division at 703-691-2131, or for general questions: 703-324-0222.