Depending on where you live, these days you might be basking in the sunshine or opening your door to 4 feet of snow outside. As I write this, I look out the window to the latter. If you’re in the same boat – loving up the winter wonderland outside your door – it’s important to remember that our pets need a little extra winter love.

That love comes in the form of winter safety tips for pets. These tips will help keep your pets safe all season long, through cold weather romps in the yard and chilly hikes around the neighbourhood. A little extra care and caution goes a long way.

Winter Safety Tips for Pets

1. Protect Those Paws

Your pet’s paws come in contact with the cold ground more than any other part of their body. And while those paw pads might be tough, they’re not invincible. There are several ways to keep those tootsies protected:

  • Consider booties to keep those paws safe.
  • Hair on the feet of long-haired dogs can form ice balls between pads and toes. Keep them well trimmed, cutting the hair so that it is even with the surface of the foot.
  • After a walk, wipe them down really well. While you’re at it, give that belly a wipe too, and up the legs, just to remove as much salt and winter muck as possible.
  • The cold can dry out a dog’s paw pads, so if you notice cracking or dryness, use a natural moisturizer to soothe and repair them. We like this one.

2. Winter Toxins

Summer might be the time of pesticides and insect repellants, but winter presents its own set of challenges when it comes to toxins. Things like antifreeze, which can have a sweet taste (and thus be attractive to pets), is extremely poisonous and can cause serious illness or death when ingested. Clean up any antifreeze that spills in your garage or on your driveway, and keep the bottle somewhere your pets can’t access.

De-icers are another toxin that seems to be everywhere in winter. Many common de-icers are dangerous for dogs, and can irritate their paws and even cause illness if your pet ingests too much of them by licking it off their paws. This is where booties or a thorough wipe after a winter romp is important. For your own home, choose a pet-safer option – these are some of the most common de-icing ingredients that are dangerous for our pets:

  • Sodium chloride: Regular old salt. Ingesting a large amount of sodium chloride can be deadly, while mild ingestion can lead to gastrointestinal upset. Salt can also irritate your dog’s paws.
  • Calcium salts (calcium carbonate, calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate): Calcium salts are the most hazardous of all ice melts. Ingestion can cause major gastrointestinal distress, and they are most likely to cause external irritation on skin and paws.
  • Potassium chloride: Another salt compound, potassium chloride is severely irritating if ingested.
  • Magnesium chloride: Sold in crystal and flake form, magnesium chloride is a very popular de-icer. Unfortunately, it can cause stomach problems if your pet consumes large amounts of it, and it’s particularly dangerous for dogs with renal disease who are sensitive to large amounts of magnesium.

3. Icy Roads

We can’t control the weather, obviously, and winter weather can do a real number on where you’re walking. If it’s icy, you, or your pet can wipe out, causing injury. If you fall, and drop the leash, then you could have another problem. To keep yourself and your pet safe, try these ice-specific winter safety tips for pets:

  • Try to choose routes that avoid spots that tend to get icy.
  • Make sure your pet’s identification tag is up to date.
  • Wear proper footwear with good grip.
  • Consider a leash that attaches around your waste, in case you fall.
  • Watch for signs of injury if your pet slips on the ice.

And it isn’t just roads that pose a potential risk. If you’re out on the trail, stay away from frozen ponds, lakes and other bodies of water. You don’t know if the ice will support your dog’s weight, and if your dog breaks through the ice it could be deadly. And if this happens and you instinctively try to save your dog, both of your lives could be in jeopardy. Unless you can be positive the ice is thick enough, stay clear.

winter safety tips for pets

4. How Cold is Too Cold?

A good guideline is if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet. Even the sturdiest winter rompers can only withstand so much. A animal’s tolerance for cold varies based on their age, coat, body fat stores, activity level, and overall health. Be aware of your pet’s tolerance and make adjustments to meet those levels. Cater your walks to the weather – if it’s cold, perhaps do 2 shorter ones rather than one long one. And be careful not to leave your pup out in the yard for extended periods of time.

This is especially important for your youngsters and seniors. Like humans, very young and very old dogs have a harder time regulating body temperature, so they have more extreme reactions to changes in weather. Keep a close eye on these guys, and don’t overdo it with outside time, both on walks and just playing outside in the backyard.

Also, just like in the summer, when a hot car becomes an oven, in the winter, a cold car becomes a refrigerator. Don’t leave your pets alone in a car – they hold in the cold and your animal could freeze.

When out, if you notice your pet doing any of these things, get them back inside quickly because these may be signs of hypothermia:

  • shivering
  • whining
  • seems anxious
  • slows down or stops moving
  • seems weak
  • starts looking for warm places to burrow 

5. Watch for Warm, Sleepy Kitties

This time of year, a car engine can be a warm place for a cat to curl up and seek shelter from the elements. But if they’re asleep, they may not be hyper aware of their surroundings. Check your vehicle for warm, sleepy kitties, just to be safe, before letting that car warm up!

If you know there are stray cats in your area, consider building a warm shelter for them. Use an old storage bin, fill it with old towels or blankets, cut a whole in the lid (big enough for them to crawl through, and leave it someplace they can easily get to. This keeps them protected from the elements and reduces the risk of them getting into your engine.

6. Prepare for Winter Walks

With winter weather comes shorter days – and that means we’re often walking as the sun goes down, or well after. Make sure you wear reflective clothing, use a reflective collar and leash, or carry some type of light with you, just to be sure people can really see you. And don’t forget, if it’s snowy, you and your pet might be harder to spot, so always keep that in mind as you plan your walking route.

Stay safe (and warm) out there friends 🙂

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