Pet Wise: Winter safety tips for pet owners

The first snowstorm of this season has occurred and more storms are likely to come. Colder temperatures and frozen precipitation may disrupt plans we make for ourselves, but can adversely affect the health and safety of our pets.

Colder temperatures can bring misery to short-legged dogs (whose bellies may come in contact with frozen surfaces), as well as thin-coated, and elderly dogs with arthritis and joint problems. These animals may benefit from wearing sweaters or coats and owners are advised to closely monitor them and limit their time outdoors. These dogs need to have their crates and beds off of cold floor surfaces and away from drafty areas of the house. Colder temperatures may also force animals to burn more calories. Owners are advised to consult with their veterinarian regarding appropriate food intake levels.


Low temperatures often encourage cats and other small animals to search for warm havens like parked vehicles. Drivers are advised to make noise (like banging on the hood, honking the horn), before turning on the ignition and also checking underneath the vehicle because a warm vehicle may attract outdoor and feral cats.

Despite having furry coats, animals can suffer from frostbite. The vulnerable areas of their bodies are the paws, nose and ears. The color of frostbitten skin, the owner is advised to immediately remove all snow and ice from the pet’s coat and paws and then bring the pet into a warm room. The frostbitten areas must be thawed slowly by applying warm moist towels that are changed frequently. This procedure should be continued until areas become flushed and then a veterinarian must be contacted immediately so the pet can be examined.

Frozen precipitation presents many hazards for animals. Pets moving through deep snow or icy surfaces may develop torn muscles, bone fractures and head injuries. Drifting snow may reach or surpass the height of fencing so dogs could easily escape from their property. To prevent this catastrophe from occurring, owners are advised to dig a trench in the snow within the perimeter of the fenced areas where drifting has occurred, recheck the trenches frequently and re-dig if more drifting occurs. Water-loving dogs need to be walked on leash to prevent them from jumping into a frozen or partially frozen pond or lake. A playful plunge could sadly result in the loss of a beloved pet.

Other winter-related hazards that pet owners need to be aware of include snow and ice melting products that may contain chemicals that can irritate paw pads and be ingested when licked. Booties for dogs to wear to protect their feet only work if the dog will tolerate wearing them. Otherwise, owners will need to immediately rinse all paws on their dogs (and cats) to remove any residue when they re-enter the house. Owners are advised to stock up on “pet safe” ice melt products and apply them to patio and sidewalk surfaces.

Another toxic hazard is anti-freeze that attracts dogs with its sweet scent. Even if a small amount is licked, it can cause kidney failure, damage to the central nervous system and death. Any anti-freeze leaks must be cleaned up immediately if dogs are allowed in a garage or carport. A vet must be contacted promptly if a dog is suspected of ingesting anti-freeze.

According to the Carroll County Code of ordinances, owners of dogs that live outdoors must take special precautions between Dec.1 and March 15 and whenever the temperature is 35 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. A shelter must be provided that has weatherproof roofing, an entryway protected by a “self-closing or offset door or a flexible flap made of windproof material,” a solid floor that is raised at least two inches off the ground to prevent moisture from getting in, and no metal interior surfaces.

The shelter must face south or east so it is not in the way of prevailing winds. Nonabsorbent, dry bedding like straw or wood shavings should be placed inside as insulation. The shelter must be large enough for the dog to be able to stand up and turn around comfortably and also warm the interior if an artificial heat source is not available.

In addition, ice-free fresh water must be provided for the dog and replaced at least twice a day in a bowl that cannot tip over. Food must be provided regularly, and the condition of outdoor pets must be checked frequently. Considerate owners bring outdoor pets indoors when the temperatures plummet.

The American Veterinary Medicine Association wants pet owners to recognize the following signs of hypothermia when observing their dogs outdoors:

  • Whining;
  • Shivering;
  • Seems anxious;
  • Slows down, or stops moving;
  • Seems weak;
  • Starts looking for warm places to burrow.

If hypothermia occurs, contact your vet ASAP!

By being aware of winter hazards and taking proactive measures, we may prevent our pets from harm during this challenging season.

A reminder to all dog owners: It’s time to purchase your dog’s 2019 license. State law requires that all dog over 4 months must be licensed! Also, schedule a wellness exam for your pet because cold weather can worsen medical conditions like arthritis.