November 2017

As the temperature drops below zero, remember these safety tips for your furry family members…

How can I best prepare my cat and dog for the colder weather?

Most pets are able to tolerate most weather in the colder months, as long as they have had time to acclimate. Extreme weather conditions are an exception. If extreme cold or severe weather is headed your way, pets should be kept indoors if possible. In general, though, if your pets spend most of their time inside or in the warmer climates, you will need to shelter them from the cold or introduce them to the lower temperatures gradually.

Be sure your pets’ feet are clean and dry every time they come inside, either from a trip to the yard to potty or from a long walk. If moisture and/or salt gets on an animal’s paws, he may lick them excessively, which can lead to irritations and infections. Rinsing and drying the feet after each walk is always a good idea.

Keep in mind, antifreeze is a deadly toxin to pets. Most contain ethylene glycol, which will severely damage the kidneys — even in small amounts. Keep this product out of reach in your garage, be sure your radiators are not leaking and keep your pets away from puddles in the winter (and in the summer). You never know if someone’s radiator was leaking on the street.

During the holidays, we in the veterinary field see more foreign-body ingestions than at any other time of the year. Thanksgiving brings ingested bones and Christmas brings tinsel, foreign bodies and chocolate toxicity. Pet-proofing the house just as you would for small children is always a good idea.

Winter should be fun and exciting, but a little bit of caution will go a long way toward helping to keep your pets safe through the season.


When the temperature drops below freezing, pets should not be left outside for extended periods. Cats, short-coated dogs and puppies are particularly vulnerable in cold temperatures. Keep cats indoors and protect your dogs from frostbite or hypothermia by taking them outside for short periods during cold weather. Consider slipping your short-coated dog or puppy into a comfortable dog sweater or coat as an extra layer of warmth. Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. As well, when bathing your dog during winter months, ensure he is completely dry before taking him outside.

Since puppies are generally less tolerant of cold weather than adult dogs, to house-train your puppy during frigid temperatures put a jacket or sweater on him when you take him outside on leash with you to the designated “toilet” area. Give him a treat as soon as he is done, and then bring him back inside. If he hasn’t shown any signs of needing to “go” after a couple of minutes, bring him inside and supervise to prevent accidents, or crate him (dogs are less likely to soil where they eat or sleep), and then try again a little later.


How do I know if my dog needs a sweater or coat this winter?

I feel safe in saying that if you have a healthy, young Siberian Husky or Alaskan Malamute who’s acclimated to the cold and has the glorious coat common in the Northern breeds, you likely won’t have to invest in canine clothing for walks in the snow. In general, there are three kinds of dogs who benefit from the insulation provided by a sweater or coat, as well as the protection afforded by life as a pampered house pet:

  • Small dogs
  • Dogs who are elderly, chronically ill or both
  • Greyhounds, Whippets and dogs of a similar thin body type, especially those with short fur

What these dogs have in common is that they have a more difficult time generating and retaining enough body heat on their own. For these dogs, a little help keeping dry and warm is always a good thing.Though protection from the elementsis the biggest reason to put clothes on dogs headed outside, it doesn’t hurt to leave a sweater on these dogs inside if you’re keeping the heat down to save energy and money.
At our house, our two little Heinz 57s, Quixote and Quora, get jackets when they go out in the snow, as do our two thin-coated grand Pugs, Bruce and Willy. Our big dogs, Gracie (Labrador Retriever-Pit Bull mix) and Shakira (Golden Retriever), do just fine withoutsweaters or coats. In fact, they love the snow.

If you have a dog with arthritis, protective clothing is just one thing you can do to make winters more comfortable. Pet-safe heated orthopedic beds are a great idea; you can also talk to your veterinarian about nutraceuticals, such as glucosamine and omega-3 oils that are clinically proven to ease joint pain. Other dogs may benefit additionally from the use of pain-control medication, typically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Even if your dog doesn’t need a coat, having one certainly won’t hurt him. I know many people who put slickers on their pets before taking a walk in the rain or snow because it saves them the trouble of cleaning a wet dog at the door before coming inside, for example. Boots help keep things neater, too, and where de-icing solutions are used, they can protect your pet from licking toxic chemicals off his paws.

Most breeds of cats even have a thick undercoat, so we don’t typically recommend clothes for your cat. But if you own a hairless cat, like a Sphynx then a little jacket or sweater can be a nice touch for keeping her warm indoors during the colder winter months.