Preparing your Home and your Pets for the Winter Months

Winter has officially arrived in Virginia and we are already under the threat of freezing temperatures. While January and February tend to be our coldest months snow and ice can happen at any time. Now is the time to prepare our home and the environment our pets live in to keep our fur families safe. The only frosty paws that your pet should have are those PetSafe frozen treats you can purchase or make. In addition to the drop in temperatures other cold weather dangers to prepare for annually include:  

  • Antifreeze  
  • Deicing Salts  
  • Feeding Routines 
  • Car Engines  
  • Space Heaters 


When the Temperature Drops  

How cold is too cold for your pet? While broad generalizations are difficult, cold should not become a problem for most dogs or cats until the temperature falls below 45 F, at which point some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable. When temperatures drop under 32 F, small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, or very young, old, or sick dogs could be in danger if they spend too much time outdoors. Once temperatures drop under 20 F, all pet parents need to be aware that their dogs and cats could develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia or frostbite when outside for extended periods of time. 

The best way to monitor your pets when they’re outside in the cold is to be outside with them and keep a close eye on their behavior. If you notice your dog shivering, acting anxious, whining, slowing down, searching out warm locations, or holding up one or more paws, it’s time to head inside and warm up.  It is important to call your veterinarian if you notice any signs of frostbite or hypothermia, including sluggishness, confusion, severe shivering (which may stop as hypothermia progresses), and parts of the body that appear pale and are cool and hard to the touch.  

Also consider that every pet needs a warm bed in a draft free location. I know some of our pets do have a warmer coat than others, but do make sure the bed is not near a door or a window where there could be some cold air coming inf from the outdoors.   

If you have a dog who truly does enjoy to be out in the winter, it is still important to have a good outdoor shelter.  A dog house or other pace that is elevated that up on some blocks or pieces of 2×4 so that it’s not actually on the ground will keep them a little bit warmer.  It should be covered inside the house should absolutely be facing away from the wind it’s also great if over the doorway there’s a waterproof burlap or a piece of plastic to keep you know the snow the rain the cold from going in so you know should you know of an animal like this just make sure the dog is really protected.  Refrain from using blankets inside the shelter as they may get damp and then freeze. Straw in the shelter is a better option. These tips are also good for any outdoor/colony cats you may care for. 

Antifreeze and Deicing Salts 

Antifreeze is a deadly poison but it actually has a sweet taste that attracts animals. Make sure if it spills that you wipe it up quickly and store it in a place where it’s out of paws reach.  You can also find some of the same ingredients in window deicers and brake fluids so keep those out of paws reach as well. Consider using the “safer” antifreeze that has ethylene glycol opposed to the propylene glycol but safer, does not mean safe to consume. Either way, If your pet does consume some, it is important to know it can take as little as a tablespoon can cause a fatality and dogs were only a teaspoon in cats.   

For Dogs: Many cases, when a dog has ingested a toxin, the standard treatment is to induce vomiting. However, vomiting is not very useful for dogs that have ingested antifreeze because the toxin is absorbed too fast.  If you see this happening, the sooner you can get them to vomit and to the vet, the better. If your dog has any neurologic signs, such as acting drunk, trying to make them throw up can lead to a choking hazard. Instead, your vet will try to prevent the toxin from metabolizing into its more dangerous forms. The preferred antidote is 4-methylpyrazole (4-MP, fomepizole). Dogs that are treated with 4-MP within 5 hours of ingesting antifreeze tend to fare better. Your dog will be hospitalized for observation and administration of 4-MP for 36 hours. IV fluids and additional supportive care will also be given to treat dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, vomiting, and nausea. 

For Cats: Initial treatment for a cat’s exposure is based on how long it’s been since ingestion. If it’s only been 1-2 hours and your pet is not yet displaying symptoms, the vet will induce vomiting or perform stomach lavage (pumping the stomach) to remove the toxin from your pet’s stomach. Stomach lavage must be done under anesthesia. A tube is run from the mouth to the stomach to flush the stomach with water in hopes of removing any toxin that may be in the stomach.  

Following this initial treatment, your cat will be placed on IV fluids to help flush their system of toxins. The best treatment, which must be started within 4 hours of exposure, is initiation of antidote treatment with 4-methylpyrazole (4-MP, fomepizole) or ethanol.  The goal of antidote treatment is to prevent the body from absorbing and converting ethylene glycol into its toxic forms in the body. The ultimate goal is to promote its excretion from the body without causing kidney damage. The antidote requires multiple treatments to be effective. 

Pets are typically hospitalized for 1-4 days, depending on the severity of illness and damage noted. The prognosis varies greatly depending on when treatment is initiated. Sadly, once cats have developed signs of kidney damage, the prognosis is poor. 

The best way to protect your feline friends from exposure to ethylene glycol is to keep them indoors, which will keep their exposure minimal. Keep all chemicals safely secured and stored. If you notice a spill of any chemicals or leakage from a vehicle, find something to absorb the spilt liquid and clean the area well with water and soap. 


Deicing Salts are also extremely toxic.  Most of them contain sodium, sodium calcium, potassium or magnesium chloride. Additionally, some also contain the ethylene glycol that you will find in antifreeze. This means taking extra precautions with pet snow boots or immediately washing the paws when you come in for a walk.  Don’t just wipe the paws with a rag; they need to be well cleaned.  Having a bowl of water to dip the paws in after a walk or utilizing a spray nozzle in your bathtub will be more effective way of removing the those deicing salts from paws and fur.  If you notice the pet is vomiting or having diarrhea it may be that they have ingested some salts during personal grooming. Other symptoms of deicing salt poisoning include seizures, shortness of breath or be disoriented. You may also see what looks like burns to the lips in the skin or cracked paw pads  

Don’t forget, if you have been out in areas that have treated with deicing salts, you could also track the poison on your shoes. As an additional precaution leave your foot wear out of the home in an area your pets do not have access to.  

How much is too much??? less than a half tablespoon for a small dog or cat can be fatal where you know about three tablespoons would have the same ill effects and a larger pet  

Let’s Talk about Food  

During the winter months the amount of food your pet needs may change if their activity levels change.  Dogs, such as Huskys or German Shepards enjoy spending time outside in the cold weather and may need a few more calories because they’re expending energy playing outdoors and to warm.  However, other pets who get to enjoy being warm and cozy couch potatoes will not be needing more calories if they’re not as active as during the warmer weather.  So, take time to consider how much your pets are active and have a conversation with your vet determine if it is necessary to adjust the amount of food they are receiving at each meal.  If you are feeding colony cats, you may also want to increase the food amounts during the winter for them as well.  

Something else to consider for outdoor feeding stations is the type of bowls you are using. Be cautious of plastic bowls because sometimes they bleach chemicals into the food and water and can cause little sores around pets’ nose and mouth.  If you are providing outdoor feeding stations in the winter time, plastic is better option than ceramic or glass which can crack or shatter due to freezing which could lead to cuts on the paws, lips or the mouth. Additionally stainless-steel bowls are really good conductors of heat and cold so the pet’s tongue COULD actually freeze to metal bowls. 

Car Engines 

Warm engines have been known to attract wildlife and feral cats so if you do park your vehicle outside, and you are heading back out that engine could still be warm, particularly if it has not been parked that long. Take a moment on the hood to make sure that any animals looking warmth aren’t up in your hood when you start the vehicle.  

Space Heaters.  

If you are like me and enjoy being really, really warm then you may have a space heater in the room with you.  I have one in my office and have it cranked up to 77 F right now!!!  But I am also careful to make sure I don’t overheat my 2 dogs who enjoy hanging out in the office with me.  If you also have space heaters in your home it is important to use caution and to never leave a pet unattended in a room with the heater.  Always keep an eye on your pets to make sure that they don’t over heat, maintain a safe distance from the heater when it is running, and unplug it anytime the pets are in the room with the heater and you are not. 


But That’s Not All 

Let’s not forget about the seasonal dangers that come with the holidays. Christmas decorations and chocolate lead to many trips to the ER vet. Be mindful of these hazards and be sure to prepare a safe place for your pets to enjoy the holiday season.  



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *