Cold Weather Checklist

You are prepared for winter. Is your pet?

Dog Hat
Dog Hat. Vicky Kasala/Stockbyte/Getty

Make a list and check it twice to keep your pets safe when cold weather strikes. Learn what to do to keep your pet safe and comfortable this winter season.

First, the Basic Supply List:

Do you have enough of the following items to last a few days, should the roads become unsafe for travel or the veterinary office is closed?

  • pet food
  • litter
  • fresh water supply
  • soft warm bedding
  • any medications your pet takes on a regular basis

    Winter Safety Checklist and Weather Considerations

    Outdoor Pets

    Some pets are better suited than others for living outdoors. There is a common misconception that dogs and cats will be "fine" if left outside. This is not true.  Like humans, they can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. The young and the senior pets are especially at risk. Pets with arthritis are prone to more discomfort in cold and damp environments.

    All pets need adequate shelter from the elements and insulation against cold weather. Pets should not be left outside for long periods in freezing weather.

    Certain breeds, such as Huskies and Samoyeds are better suited to very cold weather, but the majority of dogs and need your help and intervention. Indoor accommodations are best during extreme temperature drops, but if that is not possible, set up a suitable house in an area protected from wind, rain, and snow. Insulation, such as deep straw bedding will help keep in body heat.

    If your pet is prone to chewing, do not use blankets or material that can be ingested. Cedar shavings can be irritating to the skin, so use with caution depending on your pet's hair coat. 

    Check your pet's accommodations daily to ensure that the interior is dry and protected from the elements.

    Caution - do not use a heat lamp, space heater, or other device not approved for use with animals.

    This is a  burn hazard for your pet and a fire hazard. Pet supply vendors sell heated mats for pets to sleep on or to be placed under a dog house but read and follow directions carefully before use.

    Fresh water is a must at all times. Pets are not able to get enough water from licking ice or eating snow. A heated dish is an essential tool for cold climates. The water stays cold but doesn't freeze. Most of the cords on these types of bowls are protected with a wire spiral wrap, but caution needed for animals that may chew. Outdoor pets require additional food for energy and maintaining body heat in harsh climates.

    Related: shop and compare the top winter items for pets, including heated mats and water bowls.

    Foot care
    Dogs walking in snowy areas may get large ice balls between their pads, causing the dog to limp. Be sure to keep ice clear from this area. For dogs that have a lot of hair between the pads, keeping it clipped shorter will help with ice ball formation. Dog boots offer protection to those dogs that will tolerate wearing them.

    Salt and Chemical Deicers
    Pets who walk on sidewalks that have been "de-iced" are prone to dry, chapped, and potentially painful paws. This will encourage the pet to lick their paws, and ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation and upset. Wash off your pet's feet after an outing with a warm wet cloth or footbath.

    • Frozen lakes and ponds
      Animals don't realize what "thin ice" is. Once they fall in, it is very difficult for them to climb out and hypothermia is a very real and life-threatening danger. "Ice skating" dogs are prone to injuries such as cruciate tears if allowed to "skate" with their humans. This is also true of icy walks.
    • Antifreeze Dangers
      Thirsty and curious pets will lap up antifreeze. Just a few licks can be fatal. Lock up antifreeze containers and clean up spills immediately. For more information, please see  this article about antifreeze toxicity.
    • Heat-seekers beware!
      Cats will seek warmth where they can get it, and that may be the warm engine of a car just parked. Before starting your car, knock on the hood or honk the horn to scare off any cats - and prevent tragedy.

      Another danger are clothes dryers, and to a lesser extent, clothes washers. Always check to make sure your cat hasn't sneaked in that cozy warm space inside the dryer like my cat did.

    • Arthritic animals
      Arthritis is worse during cold and damp weather. Take special care to handle your pet gently, watch out for icy walks, provide soft (and possibly heated) bedding, and administer any necessary medications. See your veterinarian if your pet is arthritic or you suspect arthritis.
    • If your pet sleeps in the garage
      As mentioned above, be on the alert for any antifreeze leakage or antifreeze containers left out where they could spill or be chewed on. Also, do NOT start the car in a closed garage - for your safety and your pet's safety - carbon monoxide poisoning is a silent killer.

      Be sure all rodenticides, insecticides and other yard and home chemicals are safely stored away and out of pets' reach.

    Related Reading:

    Winter Wonderland?
    Protect your pets

    Summer Fun - Pet Safety

    Pet information for all types of weather Cold Weather Tips

    Please note: this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.