Texas winters are milder than in many states, but we do see cold weather, which can mean trouble for our pets without appropriate safety precautions. In the thick of winter, our team at Little Animal Hospital is here to help ensure your pet stays safe, warm, and out of danger during the cold months with our pet care do’s and don’ts.

DO determine your pet’s cold tolerance

Every pet has a different level of cold tolerance, and one pet may feel comfortable in temperatures that another pet finds much too cold. Also, pets bred to live or work in cold weather, such as Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Saint Bernards, and Samoyeds—may have a higher cold tolerance, but still cannot withstand prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures. Other factors that influence a pet’s cold tolerance include:

  • Coat type and color — Dense, curly, and double coats trap heat better than short, single, or fine coats. Dark colors absorb heat from sunlight, while light colors reflect UV rays.
  • Size — Small pets have a higher surface area-to-mass ratio, and lose heat faster than larger pets. Pets with short legs are more exposed to cold from the ground. 
  • Age — Young and senior pets have difficulty regulating body temperature and get cold faster than healthy adults.
  • Weight — Extremely thin pets lack insulating body fat and feel the chill much faster than normal or overweight pets.
  • Health status — Some endocrine and metabolic disorders (e.g., thyroid disease, diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome) and heart and kidney disease make body temperature regulation more difficult.

DON’T leave your pet unattended outside in the cold

Despite their year-round fur coat, most pets are susceptible to frostbite from prolonged exposure to cold weather, especially when the temperature is below 32 degrees. If you are too cold staying outside, your pet is also too cold. In extreme temperatures, keep your pet’s outside time short, and closely supervise them for signs that they are becoming too cold. 

Also, never leave your pet unattended in a car, no matter the outside temperature. A pet left inside a vehicle in cold weather can quickly succumb to hypothermia, so leave them safely at home if you plan to run errands and leave them in the car. 

DO bundle up your pet when heading outside

Pets who are cold-intolerant may benefit from a coat with a waterproof shell to keep them dry in rain or snow. Ensure the coat covers your pet’s back from neck to tail, and fits snugly through the chest without restricting their movements or breathing ability.

DON’T miss hypothermia signs in your pet

Hypothermia occurs when a pet’s body temperature is too low, which can result after prolonged cold exposure. Take your pet indoors if you notice hypothermia signs, which include:

  • Shivering or shaking
  • Limping
  • Stiffness
  • Refusing to move or continue on a walk
  • Skin or paw redness
  • Pale gums
  • Obvious cold legs, feet, ears, or abdomen
  • Fatigue or sluggishness

Mild hypothermia can be managed by bringing your pet inside and wrapping them in warm blankets and towels. However, hypothermia can be fatal, and pets require emergency veterinary care in severe cases.

DO care for your pet’s paws

If your pet walks a lot in the cold weather, their paw pads can crack or tear and be painful. Paw pad butters can keep feet moisturized and prevent cracking, and booties can provide extra protection on hard surfaces. Always wipe your pet’s feet with a damp cloth after walking on roads or sidewalks to remove any accumulated salt, ice melt, or debris, and discourage your pet from licking or chewing their feet. 

DON’T let your pet near antifreeze

Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which, unfortunately, is sweet and attractive, but highly toxic, to pets. Pets will sample leaks or spills in your driveway or garage, and experience kidney failure, blood cell damage, and often death. Seek immediate veterinary attention if you think your pet has ingested antifreeze.

Call our hospital immediately if you are concerned that your pet is hypothermic or may have ingested antifreeze. The best way to protect your pet’s health all year round is through wellness screening and preventive care, so contact our Little Animal Hospital team to schedule your pet’s wellness exam or if you need cold safety advice.