Protect your pets during cold weather

Seven tips to provide safety and care for the animals in your life

With the exception of certain breeds that do well in colder weather, such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Newfoundlands, and Saint Bernards, most pets feel the effects of cold weather as much as we do and are susceptible to hyperthermia and frostbite (see Cold Weather Guide below). They seek warmth and shelter and need fresh water and extra food to keep up their strength. The following are steps to keeping your animals safe and comfortable during the cold winter months, along with what to do if you observe animal neglect or cruelty.

  1. Keep pets sheltered and warm
    Cats are typically left outdoors to roam about, but when temperatures dip below 32, they should be brought indoors to avoid hypothermia. Dogs are happiest when they are taken out for short walks during winter, and then returned indoors or to a warm shelter with plenty of water at all times.
    If your dog must be left outdoors for any reason, be sure to provide a dry and draft-free shelter large enough for them to move around comfortably, but small enough to hold in body heat. Raise the flooring a few inches away from the cold ground and cover the flooring with cedar shavings or straw. To protect them from windchill and cold drafts, cover the doorway with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. Make sure you provide more food during the winter months so they can keep up their energy. Check their water dish often to ensure it is kept fresh and unfrozen. Use only plastic food and water bowls as your pets tongue can stick and freeze to metal surfaces.
  2. Bundle up, wipe down
    Weather and windchills under 30 degrees can threaten a pet’s life. Your pet’s skin, nose, ears and paw pads are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia during sub-30 degree weather, such as we’ve had recently. Short-haired dogs especially feel more comfortable with a jacket or sweater—even during short walks.
  3. Remove common poisons
    Antifreeze has a sweet taste that may attract your pets and children. For this reason, it is important to wipe up all antifreeze spills immediately and keep antifreeze and all household chemicals out of reach of your pets and children.
    Chemicals and rock salt used to melt snow and ice will irritate the pads of your pet’s feet and are poisonous to your pets. Be sure to store your de-icing salt in a safe place and wipe your dog’s paws, even after short walks. If your dog ingests rock salt, call a veterinarian immediately.
  4. Protect outdoor animals
    If you see a dog or cat outdoors during frigid weather, bring them indoors or to a local shelter.
    Cats and small wildlife may nestle under the hood of your parked vehicle for warmth. Before starting your engine, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
  5. Caring for your horses
    Your horses need access to a barn or a three-sided run-in so they can escape the wind and cold. Blankets will help keep your horses warm and dry especially during times of rain and snow. Note: If you’ve body-clipped your horses, keep them blanketed throughout the winter.
    Through the use of heated buckets or water heaters/deicers, make sure your horses’ drinking water doesn’t freeze. Feed your horses unlimited amounts of food during extreme cold. This will help them create heat and regulate their body temperatures.
  6. Speak out
    If you encounter a pet left out in the cold, let the owner know about your concern for the animal’s safety and wellbeing. Some people truly don’t know about the risks to their animals during cold weather and may be quick to correct any problems you address. However, if they respond poorly or continue to neglect their animals, be quick to report them to the local authorities. Animal neglect is a crime.
    Neglect, or a failure to provide basic needs for an animal, makes up the vast majority of cruelty cases that animal control officers respond to. Neglect often includes hoarding, lack of shelter or veterinary care, tethering and abandonment, as well as other forms of abuse.
    Direct abuse
    It can be very upsetting to see someone beating or physically attacking an animal, but it’s important not to turn away. It’s crucial to involve law enforcement quickly, as violence toward animals is often part of a larger pattern of violence that can include people as well.
  7. What to do if you observe animal cruelty or neglect
    Report what you see: Take note of the date, time, exact location and the type of animal(s) involved. Write down as many details as possible about the situation. Use your phone to take a video or pictures to document the animal, location, and surrounding area. This will help bolster your case.
    Contact your local animal control agency, county sheriff’s office or dial 9-1-1. Present your complaint and evidence. Take detailed notes regarding whom you speak with and when. Respectfully follow up in a few days if the situation has not been remedied. If you make a report of alleged animal cruelty, the responding agency is required to investigate.
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