Winter Safety Tips for Pet Owners

Buckle up Minnesota, the Farmers’ Almanac is predicting an extra cold and snowy winter this year for us! While it might be nice to think about warm cuddles on the couch with your pet and a hot cup of coffee while snow gently falls outside, the reality is that there will be walks to take and potty breaks to be had! Here are some tips and tricks to get you and your pet ready for the cold months ahead.

First, be sure to cover all the basics. Now is a great time to get your pet in to see their veterinarian for a general wellness exam and check-up if they are due soon or overdue. Three feet of snow and -5 degrees is not the most fun weather to get your pet in for a non-emergency visit like vaccinations! Just keep in mind that many veterinary clinics are booking appointments weeks out, so be patient when making your appointment.

Before real winter sets in, it is also a good idea to make sure that your pet has up-to-date and legible tags and/or up-to-date microchip information. Pets that become lost during the wintertime can often become disoriented by the snow and can have a hard time picking up the scents they need to navigate back home. On top of that, the cold weather might cause them to seek out assistance from other humans who will surely want to help them find their way back to you.

dog wearing winter gear

Understanding your pets’ tolerance for the cold is also another thing to consider before winter announces itself. Coat type, age, and health all contribute to how comfortable your pet might be and how best to get them out and about. Breed and coat type are large factors to how long your pet can remain outside before becoming too cold. Like in humans, puppies and kittens, as well as elderly pets, are more sensitive to the cold. Pets with certain underlying health conditions can also be less tolerant, so it is always best to consult your vet. All pets should be given warm and comfortable accommodations to escape the wind, snow, and ice and should never be left outside for extended periods of time in freezing conditions.

Injuries to paws are common during the cold months. From dry and cracked paw pads to chemical burns from deicers, regular checks to the condition of your pets’ paw pads are a must in the winter. If your pet tolerates them, booties are a great way to protect your pet’s feet from ice-salts and the extreme cold. If they don’t tolerate wearing booties, avoid walking on surfaces treated with non-pet safe ice salts, and always rinse paws and bellies after walking to avoid any accidental ingestion. Pet safe paw moisturizers and balms are available for purchase to keep paw pads from drying out during the winter and protecting paws from harsh winter conditions.

Does your pet enthusiastically frolic out into the snow when it is time to go outside, or do they refuse to leave the comfort of the house at the mere sight of a few flakes falling? Either way, there are steps you can take to make outside time and daily walks more enjoyable for your pet during the winter months. For pets that don’t want to go outside to potty, try making a walkway and a little dugout “potty patch” of exposed grass in the snow. If your dog seems to not want to take their daily walk, see if adding a sweater or specially made dog coat will help keep them more comfortable and try to walk during the warmest times of the day.

a cat laying in a window sill near a candle

Poisons and fire hazards are abundant during the cold months. Rodent poisons and antifreeze are two of the most hazardous poisons that your pet can be exposed to during the winter. Be sure to keep these items in places that pets cannot get to them or out of the house completely as they are attractive to pets and deadly. If you regularly use deicers like salt, be sure you are purchasing a pet-safe formula. Space heaters, fireplaces, and cozy candles can help keep the chilly air at bay but pose a fire hazard if your pet is left unsupervised with them. Never leave your pet unsupervised around these items, and always keep them at a safe distance to avoid burns.

Although we are accustomed to intense weather conditions during the winter, it is still possible that a disastrous emergency situation could arise as a result of inclement weather. Keep at least five days of food, water, and medication on hand, just in case. Be sure to review your plans should you need to leave your home with your pet and make sure they will be safe, secure, and comfortable.

Lastly, help protect the feral and outdoor cat population. Before starting your car, be sure to give a couple of strong taps to your hood and your horn a few honks to encourage any cats (or other critters!) to leave their roost next to the engine before starting your car. If you are concerned about hideouts from the cold for outdoor cats, consider fabricating a shelter for them using boxes and insulation like hay or old towels. Just be sure that the bedding inside is always dry, as wet bedding can cause animals seeking shelter to freeze.

Now that you have brushed up on keeping your pet safe during the winter, it is time to enjoy those lovely morning snuggles, hot beverages, and cozy indoor playtimes with your pet! If you have any questions about ensuring your pet’s safety and comfort during the winter season, be sure to consult your veterinarian!