How to keep your pets safe in cold weather

Here are tips on gauging how cold is too cold for your pets, how to dress them for the lower temperatures, the dangers of road salt and whether to feed your pet more in the winter.

Going outside is a must for many pets, no matter how much temperatures may drop in the winter. With the right approach, you can keep them warm while they brave the elements.

How cold is too cold for your pets?

One easy tip to keep in mind is how to judge whether the temperature is too cold for your pet.

"If it's too cold for you, it's probably too cold for your pets," said Carly Fox, senior veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center.

She noted that some dog breeds are capable of withstanding the cold better than others. For example, an Akita or Husky with a thicker coat would be more accustomed to cold weather than a Yorkshire Terrier would be.


How to protect their paws

In rare cases, pets can experience frostbite. According to Fox, this occurs if their paws are not properly protected while outside in cold weather for long periods of time.

One way to protect their paws is to have them wear booties. Fox said that pets may take time to adjust to wearing booties, but with proper training, they can be taught to wear them. They may even need to try out different types of booties.

If a pet refuses to wear them, Fox recommends applying balm to the bottom of its paws. With a consistency that is thicker than that of Vaseline, the balm can help protect their paws from cracking and becoming very dirty.


Watch out for salt on the roads and sidewalks

Salt is often used to prevent roads and sidewalks from becoming slick with ice and snow. However, the salt can create problems for pets.

When pets walk on the salt, the salt can irritate their paws. Plus, if they ingest the salt in large quantities, perhaps by licking their paws, they may begin to experience vomiting or other gastrointestinal problems.

Ingesting salt could also increase their sodium levels, which can be dangerous, Fox said.

Because of this, she recommended either wiping off your pet’s paws with warm water and a washcloth or soaking and then drying their paws to remove the salt.


Whether to feed pets more in the winter

While cold weather often means more calories for many humans, that is not always the case for pets.

For pets that mostly stay indoors, Fox said that owners should feed their pets the same amount of food as they normally would. This is because indoor pets don’t typically exercise much and risk becoming slightly overweight.

However, she noted that exceptions to this involve working dogs and dogs that spend a significant amount of time outdoors. These animals may be given more food than usual.