It’s Freezing Cold! How to Keep Your Pet Warm this Winter

Christmas is done and dusted, but baby, it’s still cold outside.

And we’re not talking a nipping at your nose kind of cold — it’s more like an Elsa-induced bone-chilling, face-burning winter chill that makes you question human existence on earth.

It’s important to make sure your pets are warm when the temperatures dip to dangerous levels, so we asked Dr. Robyn Barbiers, President of The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, Illinois, for her best suggestions on keeping your precious pet perfectly toasty.

As we begin, here’s a cold hard fact: If it’s cold to you, it’s cold for them! So be mindful of their needs as they step outside.

Coats, blankets and sweaters are your pet’s friend this season.

Dogs with short hair or only one layer of fur would benefit from an extra layer of clothing. “Fur is like human hair so it does help but it depends on how thick the fur is and if they have an undercoat,” Barbiers explains. “Different breeds handle the cold in different ways. Dogs like huskies have more fur and tolerate winter better than beagles, whose fur is less dense. If your dog’s fur is less suited to winter, consider a sweater or jacket.”

Limit your dog’s time outside.

If the weatherman got the forecast right this time around and it’s freezing, it’s best to make outdoor magic happen quickly.It is best for the animals to stay inside when temperatures dip but house trained dogs need to get outside to relieve themselves, so the quicker the better,” she says. “Make sure you limit their time outside and remember if it is too cold to you, it is also too cold for them.  If you have a cat, it is best for your cat to stay inside. Since dog walks are shortened, try some inside enrichment such as trick training, playing tug of war, fetch, playing with puzzle toys or puzzle feeders. And don’t forget to sit and snuggle too!”

Protect those precious paws — and noses!

Think of your pet when you’re tossing that ice melt on the steps or driveway. “Often snow or salt on the sidewalk is a big problem for dogs,” Barbiers says. “If possible, put boots or gels on their paws to protect them. You should, however, think about acclimating your dog to booties by having them wear them in the house and rewarding them with treats when they keep them on.” Also, be mindful of dog’s with shorter snouts. “When humans and dogs breath in air, the nose works to make the air warmer before traveling through the rest of the body,” she explains. “With short-nosed dogs, they have a harder time warming that air since they have a smaller nasal cavity, so you especially want to limit their time outdoors.” For more tips on protecting paws, click here.

Your pets will be pleased to know that now is the time to avoid baths.

For many pets, nixing the dreaded bath is a total bonus! “Baths are only a good idea if your animal likes the also be dried with a hair dryer on a low setting,” Barbiers says. “Otherwise, just like humans, they will be cold after the bath is over and they are removed from the warm water. Drying their hair immediately can help, but generally, avoiding baths is best in the cold weather.”

Watch out for frostbite.

Humans aren’t the only ones at risk of getting frostbite in crazy cold temperatures. “Pets are susceptible to frostbite if outdoors for too long. You can tell if they’ve gotten frostbite by looking at the skin in the ears,” she says. “If it is pale and appears to have lost its pink/red tint, they may have frostbite. You should get them into a warm environment immediately and call a veterinarian.”

Take the shiver test — if your pet is shivering go back inside!

If your animal is outside and they begin to shiver, it’s a clear sign that it is time to get back inside,” she says. If you must go out, take a towel with you. “When you walk, bring a towel to wipe your pets paws while you are outside. Dogs will often lift their paws when they become irritated, so having a dry towel on the walk with you will help make them more comfortable,” Barbiers adds.

Always be aware of your surroundings outside.

Antifreeze and ice melt should always be out of the way of animals. “Make sure you clean up an antifreeze because it is very toxic to them should they ingest it,” Barbiers says. “Use pet-friendly salt or sand or if you use kitty litter make sure it is not the clumping type.” Animals that are cold often take shelter in warm places, like cars, so be alert to unexpected guests. “If you park your car outside, before you start it up, make sure that you bang on the hood because animals will climb up into the engine to keep warm,” she warns.

Keep an eye out for animals in danger.

If you see a dog or cat that is clearly living outside in the cold, call your local authorities or animal shelter to get them to a safe environment, Barbier advises. “Many states have laws that you have to provide adequate shelter for any animal,” she says. “With extremely cold temperatures hitting a majority of the country this week, there are not many places outside that animals can tolerate the cold, so limit their outside time.”

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Amy Jamieson

A former senior editor for, Amy launched People Pets for People magazine in 2008. Now she writes about pets, lifestyle and more from her bucolic saltbox in Collinsville, Connecticut, usually with a cat in her lap and a dog at her feet.

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