Eight Ways to Protect Your Pet During Winter

Keep your four-legged friends safe with expert tips from a local vet.


Photo provided by the MSPCA-Angell

We all know that winter weather can wreak havoc on the body and immune system. From flu shots to anti-bacterial wipes to extra-strength moisturizers, we’ll try just about anything to keep ourselves healthy this time of year. But changing conditions and freezing temperatures don’t affect humans alone—our pets are impacted, too. Victoria Sinnott, an emergency and critical care specialist at Angell Animal Medical Center, says it’s a common misconception that our furry friends are less susceptible to the cold than we are.

“A lot of people think dogs are fine in the cold, that they’re built for it and made for it,” she says. “But the number of injuries we see from the cold suggests that we have to pay attention to them as much as we pay attention to our kids.”

Here, Sinnott shares expert pet safety tips to keep our four-legged companions healthy all season long.

Bundle up. Sweaters and coats for pets may not be your style, but they can do wonders for a cold animal. Sinnott says that outerwear is particularly important for short-haired dogs (like a Daschund or Greyhound) with no undercoat. Skip it for longer-haired dogs like Huskies. Putting a coat on these animals, which stay warm by trapping air between their fur, can actually make them colder, she adds.

Keep walks to a minimum. Sinnott says that walking an animal in extreme cold can be just as dangerous as walking one during a heat wave. She recommends keeping walks short and avoid leaving your pet in a cold car for more than a few minutes.

Ice is not your friend. Walk your dog near a pond or lake? Beware of thinning ice. “New England is famous for having that January thaw, so it’s really important to keep an eye on bodies of water,” Sinnott says.

Watch out for salt. Used to de-ice roadways and sidewalks, salt can be very irritating to a dog’s paws. Sinnott recommends cleaning your pet’s paws and belly with baby wipes immediately after a walk. Also, she says to make sure that your dog doesn’t lick off the salt, which can cause nausea and vomiting when ingested.

Build proper shelter. When constructing an outdoor kennel, it’s important to keep the floor of the kennel off the ground to allow for proper insulation. Sinnott also says the kennel shouldn’t be too big, as that can detract from its warmth as well. “It should be just big enough so that the dog can stand up and turn around,” she says.

Don’t skimp on grooming. “For dogs with fur between their toes, it’s a good idea to get it clipped at a groomer,” Sinnott says, adding that the fur attracts snow, and small snowballs can form between a dog’s toes, causing discomfort.

Hydration is key. Like their human counterparts, dogs can become ill quickly when deprived of water. Sinnott says it’s important to ensure access to non-frozen water so dogs can stay properly hydrated. Dog bowls should be checked at least three times a day, especially if they’re kept outdoors.

Know the signs. When a dog becomes hypothermic, Sinnott says that the first thing it will do is curl up into a ball to make itself as small as possible. And as for frostbite? “Dogs tend to announce it by licking their paws and holding up a foot,” she says.