shaking snow

Sledding, snowball fights and building snowmen may make fond memories of the winter season, but the cold weather holds many hidden risks for our furry friends.  Newtown Veterinary Specialists advises owners to bear in mind the dangers pets can face in the cold winter months:

  1. Hypothermia

Primary hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature is low due to exposure to a cold environment. Dogs and cats that are left outdoors in the cold are at risk for developing hypothermia, which can result in damage to the internal organs or even death. We recommended keeping dogs and cats indoors during the winter and taking dogs out for short walks frequently.

For dogs and cats that must stay outdoors, consider keeping them in the garage or enclosed patio where they’ll be protected from the harsh elements.

For outdoor dogs, the Humane Society of the United States says that he/she “must be protected by a dry draft free shelter that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold his/her body heat.” 

Other recommendations for dog houses include:

  • A floor that is raised a few inches off the ground
  • Floor covering with cedar shavings or straw (not blankets which can become soaked with melted snow)
  • Keep the house turned away from the wind
  • Cover the doorway with a waterproof burlap or heavy plastic

Many humane groups recommend providing shelter for outdoor cats, especially when it’s cold. Detailed information on building and/or buying effective cat shelters can be found at:

It’s also important to monitor your pet’s water supply as bowls can quickly become frozen and unavailable to your pet.  Also consider using plastic bowls instead of metal containers that can stick to a pet’s tongue in the cold.

If at all possible, keep your furry friends indoors where they are warm, dry and can spend time with the family.

  1. Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when a cold environment results in constriction of blood vessels to the extremities in order to shunt blood to the vital organs.  This decreased blood flow to areas such as the tail, ear tips and feet results in damage to the tissue indicated by discoloration. Frostbite is very painful and can result in the loss of ear tips and tails. You can prevent frostbite by keeping your pets inside and limiting the length of time that pets are out in the cold weather. If you’re concerned that your pet may have frostbite, have him or her immediately evaluated by a veterinarian.

  1. Ice melts/salt

Ice melts are convenient to help prevent icy sidewalks and driveways, but can be very irritating to pets.  Ice melts can cause irritation to paw pads and more serious signs, such as drooling, decreased appetite, vomiting, and depression if ingested (eaten or groomed from the feet).  You can prevent this from happening by wiping your pet’s footpads with a warm/damp cloth.

  1. Car Engines

Car engines provide warm hiding places for outdoor cats.  Cats that climb into the car engine to keep warm are at risk of serious injury from fast moving fan belts or blades when the car is started. Common injuries include burns or lacerations but can be severe and include broken bones or internal injury.  A good way to warn our hidden friends is to bang on the hood of the car to allow them time to escape before starting the car.

Winter can be a beautiful time of year to be enjoyed by all.  Everyone here at Newtown Veterinary Specialists wish you and your pets a safe and warm winter season.