BringFido’s 10 Essential Cold-Weather Pet Safety Tips for Dogs

Posted by Jessica Roberts

Chilly weather, the holidays and snow are fun and exciting for pups and their “pawrents,” but the colder months also pose some dangers unique to our four-legged companions. Here are 10 winter pet safety tips to help keep Fido safe when the weather outside is frightful.

Winter is Cold and Wet

“It’s cold and wet, but we gotta get our steps in.” Photo by Meghan

Surprise! Wintertime can be cold and wet. But dogs still need their walks and potty breaks, and a bit more exercise is on everyone’s list of New Year's resolutions. How can you keep Fido from turning into a “pupsicle” when venturing out in the cold?

1. Know Your Dog’s Limits

Thin, small and short-coated breeds (like Chihuahuas and Greyhounds) have more trouble regulating their body temperature than our larger, fluffier friends like Malamutes and Huskies. Young puppies and elderly canines also have a lower tolerance for cold. The best thing you can do for your pet’s safety in the winter is to be aware of her comfort levels and adjust activities accordingly.

Want to help your pup beat the chill this winter? Heat up a bowl of dog-friendly soup after playtime in the cold. Food warmed just below body temperature (between 101°F and 102.5°F) can enhance the taste and aroma, making a nutrient-dense meal all the more appealing to a cold and tired-out pooch. Warm food may also improve a pup’s blood circulation and aid digestion. You can simply add warm water to heat up a bowl of kibble or canned dog food, or add it to his dehydrated meal mix. Just be sure Fido’s meal is served up warm, not hot!

2. Dress Them Appropriately

From dog coats to booties, our guide to winter gear for pups has everything you need to outfit Fido against the cold. According to the Pedigree Foundation, the general rule of thumb is:

  • When temperatures fall below 45°F, keep an eye on your pooch for signs of chill, such as whining, shivering or saying, “Hey Ma! I’m cold.” Most dogs are fine at this temperature, but if they don’t seem comfortable, it’s time to go shopping.
  • For small breeds, puppies, senior pets and those with thin coats, if the thermometer drops to 32°F or lower, they’re likely going to need extra protection beyond a sweater.
  • Below 20°F, even dogs who are built for cold weather should be monitored carefully. Exposure to these freezing temperatures should be limited.

Cold Weather is Tough on Paws and Skin

“Winter safety is fun!” Photo by iStock/dadoodas

As most humans know, the cold winds and general lack of humidity in the winter can cause your skin to be dry and itchy. The same holds true for our canine companions. Winter wellness tips for pooches include:

3. Bathe Less Frequently

One of the best ways to treat a dog’s winter itchiness is to avoid stripping the skin’s natural balance, and that means fewer bath times. Using a soft brush and water-only baths will mostly suffice at this time of year, but you can also try a dry shampoo for dogs, like this waterless dog shampoo. If your little buddy’s skin still seems irritated, talk to your vet or groomer about whether a topical ointment or nutritional supplement can help.

4. Make “Paw-tection” a Priority

There’s a reason our winter gear guide includes footwear for Fido. If you both enjoy being out in the elements, heavy-duty waterproof dog boots are a good idea, since his tootsies will be in constant contact with the frozen ground. If you’re walking where deicers and salt may be used, consider getting him some paw protection, like these disposable Pawz booties or Musher’s Secret pet paw protection wax. Always check Fido’s paws frequently during the winter for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked pads or cuts from ice accumulation, and give his feet a good wipedown after he’s been outside.

It’s Not Safe Inside, Either

"In our defense, the gnome started it." Photo by @millie_n_mabel

While winter-related hazards for dogs mostly conjure images of freezing temperatures and slick ice, the colder months also bring new dangers inside the home. Space heaters, holiday decorations, plants and chemicals pose their own safety risks for pups.

5. Provide Warmth Safely

While pets love to snuggle up in a cozy spot on the hearth (don’t we all), there are extra steps you should take to ensure their safety inside during the colder months. Always supervise your pup around a space heater, utilize gates and protective screens if you’ve got a fire going, and be sure carbon monoxide detectors are in working order to keep your entire family safe from harm.

6. Move Inside Dangers Out of Reach

In the winter, the plants and decorations we bring indoors can create a serious risk for four-legged family members. Holiday plants like poinsettias and mistletoe are poisonous to dogs, along with common potted plants like aloe, peace lilies and rubber plants. If you’re bringing plants indoors in the winter, be sure to place them far out of paw’s reach.

When it comes to accidental poisonings, ethylene glycol is a common cause in the winter. The toxic chemical common in antifreeze may drip from leaky car radiators and engines, and is often used to “winterize” the plumbing inside homes. Choose an antifreeze with propylene glycol instead, and do not allow your dog to wander unsupervised where there may be access to antifreeze.

Walking, Wagging and Riding in a Winter Wonderland

“It’s 4 p.m. Where’d the sun go?” Photo by @twoeastcoastdoodles

7. Stay Seen, Even in the Dark

With shorter periods of daylight, your morning and evening strolls may be happening in near or complete darkness. Fortunately, LED collars, reflective vests, light-up leashes, glow-in-the-dark dog toys and flashlights are available to help you and Fido see where you’re going, and allow others to see you.

8. Don't Leave Fido Alone in the Car

Pets should never be left alone in a car at any temperature, as this puts them at risk of suffocation and, in the winter months, hypothermia. When it’s cold outside, vehicles are also attractive to cats seeking warm shelter. Before driving off, always check under your car for animals and bang on the hood or honk to rouse cats who may have dozed off inside the engine or wheel well.

Preparation is Key to Winter Dog Safety

“‘Snow’ much for my sense of smell.” Photo by Lisa

9. Collars and Chips and Leashes, Oh My!

Snowfall can make it hard for a dog to find his way back home. Before it's too late, double-check that Fido’s microchip and tags are up to date. Keep him close on a leash and watch for patches of ice, frozen lakes or ponds, and other winter hazards while you’re out for a winter walk.

10. Be Ready for Inclement Winter Weather

Before a winter storm strikes, stock up on supplies of non-perishable food for humans and canines, bottled water, medicine, blankets, candles and batteries for flashlights and lanterns. And in case of an emergency, don’t forget F.I.D.O.!

What are your best safety tips for dogs in the wintertime? Leave a comment or tweet us @BringFido!

BringFido is committed to providing authentic dog-friendly content that our readers will love. We may at times receive compensation from our partners or use affiliate links to promote products and services featured on our blog. Banner photo by iStock/onetouchspark.