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Cold Weather Concerns for Pets

Cold Weather Concerns for Pets

If you’re planning to head outside and brave the elements in the frigid winter months, chances are you’re going to bundle up. You’ll layer on a heavy coat, throw on a knit hat and pull on some boots to keep your toes toasty.

If you take those types of precautions to protect yourself from the cold, you should be aware of how freezing temperatures and winter weather can affect your pets, too.

“Don’t assume that you pet’s fur protects them from the weather like your insulated jacket protects you,” says Vicki Stevens, director of program management and communications in the companion animals department at the Humane Society of the United States. “Remember that if your extremities would need protection—like mittens and a hat—your pet’s extremities will be cold, too.”

Whether you spend the winter sharing blankets with your dog or with a feline friend, make sure to keep these cold weather concerns for pets top of mind.

How cold is too cold for a dog?

If you’re wondering how cold is too cold for a dog, the answer isn’t simple, says Dr. Maren Krafchik of the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York City. “There isn’t one temperature that’s a hard-and-fast rule for all pets, but the best general rule is: If it is too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet,” she says. “Generally speaking, pets should stay indoors as much as possible during the winter months.”

If dogs stay outdoors too long in freezing temperatures or harsh, winter elements, they may have trouble regulating their body temperature, says Krafchik, and could develop hypothermia. Frostbite is another concern, and exposed areas of skin—such as your dog's nose, tail, ears and paw pads—are particularly susceptible.

Signs of hypothermia in dogs include:

  • Shivering

  • Pale gums

  • Lack of coordination

  • Slow heart rate

  • Stiff muscles

  • Lethargy


If you are planning on taking a winter walk with you dog, limit the time spent outside, outfit them with proper winter dog gear, and make sure to pay close attention to your pup and watch for warning signs. “Just like people, each pet has their own tolerance for cold, based not only on their coat length and size, but their age, general health and underlying medical conditions,” says Stevens. So, as you are out with your pets, it is important to monitor each of them individually to determine whether they are handling the cold adequately or need additional protection.

How to keep dogs warm in winter weather

Dogs still need physical activity during the winter months, so learning to keep dogs warm in winter is an important part of keeping your pet safe.

Although not all dogs will tolerate the use of sweaters or coats, these items can be beneficial in minimizing winter’s bite. “These can help retain body heat and prevent skin from getting dry or inflamed,” says Krafchik. “Whether a dog needs a coat depends on many factors, including age, size, breed and fur, so discuss your specific pet’s needs with a veterinarian.”

Dog booties are another good option for pet parents—if dogs will tolerate wearing them, says Stevens. Not only do these coverings help keep your dog warm in the winter, but they help protect your pup from potential dangers. “Rock salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet,” she says. “Dog boots can help protect your dog’s feet from these irritants. Be sure to wipe all paws with a damp towel and check your pets’ feet and pads to look for any chapping or cracking.”

Adding a dog-safe heating pad to your pup’s bed or purchasing a self-heating dog bed can also provide your pet with a little extra warmth when the temperatures drop. But be careful when you are using heating pads in your home, adds Stevens. “Heated beds and pads can be helpful, but they must be used with caution,” she says. “Check frequently to make sure there are no exposed wires that could cause a fire, and do not leave these items on when you are not at home to monitor them.”

How cold is too cold for a cat?

If you’re wondering how cold is too cold for a cat, the same rule applies to cats as it does to dogs. “Again, if it is too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet,” says Krafchik.

Single-digit temperatures and freezing weather can cause a variety of problems for felines who are exposed to the elements, especially strays and outdoor cats. “Cats can die from hypothermia and frequently seek heat from car engines, which can result in fan-belt injuries, burns and death,” adds Krafchik.

Additionally, the extreme cold can increase a cat's energy and nutritional needs, says Krafchik, so make sure to provide your cat with extra water and encourage drinking to prevent dehydration.

It is recommended to keep your feline family members inside, especially during lower temperatures. If you notice strays in your area, contact a local animal shelter or humane society to let them know about the animal and to provide guidance.

How to keep cats warm during winter

The simple rule of thumb for helping cats stay warm in the winter? Keep them inside. “Cats are healthiest and safest indoors,” says Krafchik. “This applies through all seasons, but most importantly through winter.”

Provide your cat with plenty of enrichment activities inside, such as cat trees or food puzzles. Your feline will be happiest watching the winter weather from a cozy perch near the window. And since cat’s generally don’t tolerate “gear” as much as dogs, says Krafchik, it’s really not advisable to let cats outside.

If you’re looking to keep outside cats warm, there are ways you can help. First, call your local animal shelter if you see an outdoor stray or cat colony. Many cat rescue groups will provide food, shelter and blankets to feral or stray cats in the winter.

If you’ve noticed outside cats in your neighborhood during the winter months, make sure to check under your car and knock on the hood before starting the engine. This can help scare outside cats away and prevent potential burns and injuries for cats who are hiding in or near vehicles.

Cold weather concerns for pets: Use your judgment

When it comes down to it, it’s not worth putting your pet’s health and safety at risk. Cut down on outdoor exposure during the winter months and make sure to keep your pets active with fun indoor games—like hide-and-seek—or interactive toys.

“Check your local listings for indoor-play opportunities—such as doggie day care,” says Krafchik. “If your pet is very active, you may want to have extra enrichment, such as toys, puzzle toys and obedience exercises to keep them busy while indoors.”

For more interactive toys and games to play with your pet this winter, visit Petco.com.