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9 Ways to Keep Your Dog Safe in the Snow

Veterinarian Dr. Aaron Vine on how you can protect your pet when they’re exposed to the elements.

by Claudia Kawczynska
Updated December 28, 2021
A woman holding a dog outside in the snow
DragonFly Production / Stocksy

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As idyllic as a winter with your pup might sound (who doesn’t love a dog in a chic coat?), harsh weather can be dangerous for humans and animals alike. “It is very important to keep your pet safe and healthy during the winter season, especially during storms,” says Dr. Aaron Vine, DVM, and VP at Central Veterinary Associates. “The extreme cold may have an adverse effect on your pet’s health, so pet parents must take the necessary precautions for their pets when bringing them outside. It is especially important during extreme weather circumstances to ensure that your pet is microchipped, which makes it easier to locate them. In the event they become ill as a result of being exposed to the elements, please bring them to a veterinarian immediately.” Below, nine more winter safety tips from Dr. Vine.

1. Always Dry Off

When your dog comes in from the snow, ice, or sleet, be sure to thoroughly wipe down their paws and stomach. They may have rock salt, antifreeze, or other potentially dangerous chemicals on their paws which, if ingested, can cause severe stomach problems. Antifreeze should especially be watched for, as it can lead to kidney failure. In addition, paw pads may get cut from hard snow or encrusted ice, so it’s important to check them over and treat them accordingly.

2. Hold Off on Haircuts

Save for extreme circumstances, you should never shave down your dog during the winter. Their long, thick coats are vital for protection from the cold. If you have a short-haired breed, consider getting them a coat or a sweater with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly.

3. Keep Bedding Warm

Make sure your dog has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafty areas. A cozy pet bed with a warm blanket or pillow is the next best thing to letting your pup sleep in bed with you.

4. Shorten Bathroom Breaks

If you have a puppy or senior pet who is sensitive to the cold, it may be difficult to take them outside. Shorten bathroom breaks to quick trips outside rather than long walks, or use pee pads on particularly nippy nights so your pet doesn’t hold it and risk getting a UTI. If your pet gets cabin fever from the limited exercise, turn to indoor interactive games to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. And when they do make it outdoors, always ensure they’re wearing a warm sweater or jacket.

5. Bring Outdoor Pets In

If domesticated animals are left outdoors during winter months, they run the risk of health conditions caused by extreme temperatures. Cats are especially susceptible, as they have free reign of the outdoors and can become lost during a storm. In similar fashion to summer months, you should never leave your pet alone in a car in cold weather, as they could freeze and develop serious cold-related health conditions.

6. Keep Your Pet on a Short Leash

Never let your dog off leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm, as they can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than any other season, so make sure that your dog always wears their identification tags. It is highly recommended that all pets are outfitted with a microchipping device.

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7. Check Your Engine

As you’re getting into your car in the morning, bang loudly on the hood before starting it. Outdoor cats and wild animals like to sleep under cars, within the engine compartment, or in the wheel base as the engines keep the vehicle warm long after the car is parked. However, once the car is started or in motion, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt or tires.

8. Beware of Ice Melt (Salt)

Salt and ice melt (most common in urban areas) can cause chemical burns on animals’ paws, so always ensure your dog is wearing booties or apply a paw wax to act as a barrier.

9. Clean Up Spills

If you spill any antifreeze or winter-weather windshield fluid, be sure to clean it up immediately. Pets, especially cats, are enticed by the sweet-tasting liquid, but it is poisonous. Ingesting antifreeze leads to potentially life-threatening illness in all animals, domesticated or otherwise. If possible, use products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.

Claudia Kawczynska

Claudia Kawczynska was co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Bark for 20 years. She also edited the best-selling anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot.