Protect Your Pet During Cold Winter Weather 

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, VIRGINIA . . . Cold winter weather presents challenges to those who love and care for cats, dogs and horses who may spend some time outdoors. This winter is predicted to be one of bitter cold and numbing wetness.

Extra precautions during winter months will make sure your four-footed family members stay safe and warm. Help your pets remain happy and healthy during the colder months by following these simple guidelines:

  • Keep pets indoors and warm 

Don’t leave dogs or cats outdoors when the temperature drops. Regardless of the season, short-haired, very young or old dogs – and all cats – should never be left outside without supervision. Dogs and cats are safer indoors, except when taken out for exercise.

Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. If your puppy appears to be sensitive to the weather, you may opt to paper-train him inside. Don’t shave your dog down to the skin in winter since a longer coat will provide more warmth. When you bathe your dog in the winter months, be sure to completely dry it before taking out for a walk. During walks, short-haired dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly.

No matter what the temperature is, wind chill can threaten a pet’s life. Pets are sensitive to severe cold and are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia when they are outdoors during extreme cold snaps. Exposed skin on noses, ears and paw pads can quickly freeze and suffer permanent damage. Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze.

  • Take precautions if your pet spends a lot of time outside 

A dog or cat is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. Outdoors they can freeze, become lost or be stolen, injured or killed. If allowed to stray they may be exposed to infectious diseases, including rabies, from other cats, dogs and wildlife.

If for some reason your dog is outdoors much of the day, protect it with a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

If your cat is outdoors it needs protection from the elements as well as food and water. If your pets spend a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities, increase their supply of food, particularly protein, to keep them and their fur in good shape.

  • Give your pets plenty of water 

Pets that spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet’s water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal to keep your pet’s tongue from sticking and freezing to metal.

  • Be careful with cats, wildlife and cars 

Warm engines of recently parked cars attract cats and small wildlife; they may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

  • Protect paws from salt 

The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet’s feet. Wipe all paws and stomach with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth. They can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking their paws, and the paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice.

  • Avoid antifreeze poisoning 

Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol which is less toxic ethylene glycol to pets, wildlife and family members.

  • Keep your pets with you 

Probably the best thing you can do for your pet is to keep it inside with you and your family. The happiest dogs are those who are taken out frequently for walks and exercise but kept inside the rest of the time. When taking your dog for a walk never let it off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm – dogs can easily become lost and it’s against the law. Make sure your pets always wear their dog license or ID tag. Dogs and cats are social animals who crave human companionship. Your animal companions deserve to live indoors with you and your family. Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.


  • Give your horses shelter and dry warmth 

Be sure your horses have access to a barn or a three-sided run-in so they can escape the wind and cold. While not all horses will need to be blanketed, blankets will help horses keep warm and dry, especially if there is any rain or snow. If you’ve body-clipped your horses, keep them blanketed throughout the winter.

  • Supply food and water to your horses around the clock 

Give your horses access to unfrozen water at all times. You can use heated buckets or water heaters/deicers to make sure the water doesn’t freeze. Feed your horses more forage—unlimited amounts, if possible—during extreme cold. This will help your horses create heat and regulate their body temperatures.

For more information, please visit the Animal Shelter website ( and our social media sites.