Best Ways to Protect Pets in Winter

Cold temperatures, freezing rain, slick ice and deep snow can be treacherous for dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and other household pets. Here’s what you can do to keep your favorite animals safe in the winter months ahead.

* Limit their time outside. Sure, dogs will need to go for a walk, and some cats and maybe rabbits or other four-legged creatures may literally go stir crazy if they don’t get a little time outdoors every day. But don’t open the door, let your pet out and close the door again. You might forget the poor creature is outside! That’s especially important if the temperature has dropped below freezing, and if it’s nighttime, where no sun is available for a pet to try to warm up. If you have a tendency to let your pet out and forget about it, keep a timer by your door and make sure it buzzes loudly after 10 minutes. If an animal has to be outside, make sure it has enough food and water and dry shelter with cedar shavings or straw padding on the bottom to help protect it from the cold. But as much as possible, keep animals warm indoors, or in a heated shed or garage.

* Dress them warmly! You can get insulated, water-repellent coats for most dogs and cats no matter how big or small they are. I found putting a coat around my dog was particularly good when it rained or snowed. Though her face, tail and paws got wet, the rest of her body stayed warm and dry. When I brought her in after a walk, she didn’t rub her wet fur all over the furniture, either.

* Don’t leave the door open. If by chance you let pet birds fly loose around your home, make sure you don’t stand with the door open if they’re out of their cage. My mother had loose birds in the house—until one harsh winter day, she opened the door to call to a neighbor. Her parakeet alighted on her head then flew off towards the horizon. The poor thing probably froze to death within the hour.

* Pick up your pet’s poop. For some reason, many people think it’s fine to leave their pet’s poop on the ground if it’s going to be covered with snow. But it’s not. At some point the snow will melt, leaving behind soggy, nasty poop other dogs might eat, people might step in, or that could attract flies and other vermin. Clean up after your animal in the winter the same way you would in the summer.

* If you can’t find your cat, look under your car or the car hood. My cat often takes shelter under my car if he’s cold or it gets dark out and he doesn’t want to be an easy mark. Some cats will crawl up towards a warm car engine. If you think cats in your neighborhood might do this, bang on the hood of your car before you start the engine.

* Beware icy steps. Most animals have no trouble navigating dry steps. When they’re icy, however, they become a dangerous slide. Keep steps clear of ice and snow—that will make your life safer, too.

* Avoid antifreeze. Antifreeze is a deadly poison, says the Humane Society, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up any antifreeze you spill or that drips from your car, and don’t let your dog lick puddles near cars when you’re on on a walk.

* Protect paws from salt. The salt and chemicals used to melt snow can irritate your pet’s feet. Keep a cloth handy if you’re on a walk and need to clean up your pet’s paws. I also keep a cloth by the door and wipe paws as soon as my pets come back in the house after being outside.

* Watch for signs of cold paws. My dog loved running in the snow—until her paws got caked with ice. Then she’d start limping and lifting the paw that was the coldest. I learned to check her paws frequently and knock away any icy buildup.

* Keep an eye out for homeless or abused animals. Winter is a terrible time for an owner to punish a pet by stranding it outside, yet it happens all the time. If you see an animal that is freezing outdoors or that you notice has been outside for a long time, you can either politely let the owner know you’re concerned, or contact your local animal control agency or even the police.

* Don’t lose your pet! Some animals love jumping in snow—until they can’t go out. If your pet goes outside to pee, shovel a path to a cleared area that it can easily follow. Tie a bright red bandana around its neck so you can see it against the white snow. And don’t let your pet get so far away from you that you can’t find it in deep snow.

* Have a plan for your pet if you lose power. AccuWeather recommends having enough food stocked for your pet, the same as you would prepare for yourself. Also, know what nearby hotels accept pets in the event you need to leave your home.

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Sonia M
Sonia M7 months ago

Good article with useful tips thanks for sharing

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

My kitties never go outside.

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you

Teresa W.
Teresa W2 years ago

thank you

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper2 years ago

Merry Christmas

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper2 years ago


sandy Gardner
sandy Gardner2 years ago


Jennifer Freismuth
Jennifer F2 years ago

95% of this is common sense. The first tip almost made me fall off my chair! If someone forgets that the family pet was let out, then he or she should NOT own a pet. Same goes for a cat under the hood of your car. I also agree with Kamia T. about coats on dogs....that is so true about their ears and paws! When we had our Black Lab we were always concerned about his paws. His double coat of fur didn't help those paws OR ears for that matter!

Kamia T.
Kamia T2 years ago

Coats don't really keep your pets that warm, since they lost much of their warmth through their paws and ears. Some of my rescues have thick double coats and do well in the cold and snow, rolling around cleaning their coats in it. My Bull Mastiff mix and my Brindle Boston Terrior, not so much. So their stints outside in cold weather are short.