In the winter months cold weather can be deadly for animals. Dogs, cats, and other pets are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia just like humans. Hypothermia is a condition when the body temperature drops below a certain temperature. In humans that temperature is 95° F. Anything below 100° F can cause Hypothermia in animals. Temperatures below 45° degrees can be uncomfortable and temperatures below 32° can cause health issues or death. People assume that animals with longer hair or thicker coats can manage extreme temperatures. This is a common misconception, especially if an animal’s fur or coat gets wet. When their body loses too much heat, it can be serious or even fatal. Here are signs to watch for:


  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Decreased heartbeat and weak pulse
  • Stiff muscles
  • Lack of coordination
  • Pale or blue gums
  • Lethargy
  • Problems breathing
  • Lack of appetite
  • Rectal temperature below 98°F
  • Coma
  • Cardiac arrest


  • Wrap your pet in a warm blanket or coat. Warming these items in a dryer for a few minutes is ideal.
  • Bring your pet into a warm room.
  • Give your pet a solution of four teaspoons honey or sugar dissolved in warm water to drink. You can also put 1-2 teaspoons of corn syrup on the gums if your pet is too weak to drink. This provides an immediate energy boost.
  • Use a warm water bottle, wrapped in a towel and place it against your pet’s abdomen or underside. Afterwards wrap your pet in a blanket. Do not use hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets to warm up a hypothermic pet as this may result in burns or cause surface blood vessels to dilate, which compromises circulation to vital organs.
  • Call your veterinarian immediately.

Frostbite happens when a part of an animal’s body freezes. For cats, that may involve the paws, tail, or ears and for dogs it could be the tail, ears, foot pads, or scrotum. Being outside for extended periods of time in severe weather conditions, especially if its windy, can lead to frostbite. Here are signs to watch for:


  • Pale, gray, or blue skin immediately after exposed to the outdoors
  • Red, puffy skin that stays after a period of time
  • Signs of pain in the ears, tail, or paws when touched
  • Skin that stays cold or shriveled skin


  • Apply warm (not hot) water for at least 20 minutes to the frostbitten area. Do not use hair dryers, heating pads, or electric blankets to warm up a frostbitten pet as this may cause burns to their skin.
  • Handle the affected areas very carefully; don’t rub or massage them as you could cause permanent damage.
  • Call your veterinarian immediately.


  • Check your pets water bowl often, be sure their water supply doesn’t freeze. Use a heater if needed. Pet stores sell warmers to keep outdoor water supplies from freezing.
  • Some animals require more food than other animals that don’t spend as much time outside. In the winter, animals need more calories in their diet to keep warm.
  • Don’t leave an animal in the car for long periods of time during cold weather. A cold car in the winter can be just as deadly as a hot car can be in the summer.
  • Keep antifreeze away from pets, it can be deadly. Animals are attracted by its sweet taste. Cats especially can be poisoned by very small amounts of antifreeze. If you suspect your pet has been exposed to antifreeze call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.
  • Pay special attention to your pets paws if they have walked on salted or de-iced surfaces. They may lick their paws afterwards. Manufacturers of these products warn that the chemicals in these products can be toxic. Rinse your pet’s paws in warm water after they have been exposed.
  • Also check your pet’s pads for balls of ice that may have formed between their toe pads. Use warm water to remove.
  • Beware of pets and wildlife that may try to seek warmth from your car’s engine. They could be underneath or hiding in wheel wells. Use your horn or bang on your car before starting your engine.

If your animal must stay outside make them a shelter and place blankets and straw inside to provide them with extra warmth. Use straw instead of hay, it’s inexpensive and works well for bedding. Straw helps retain an animal’s body heat and evaporates moisture. Use a thick layer, replace often and check it frequently for moisture. A good rule of thumb is to use common sense. If you feel cold and uncomfortable outside, then it most likely is too cold outside for your pet.  Take them out for short potty breaks but bring them in as soon as they are done. After all, they are your best friend!


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