Keeping pets safe in cold weather

Dog outside in winter

As winter settles in across the state, Animal Humane Society urges pet owners to think twice when letting pets outside for extended periods of time. Temperatures below freezing along with wind chill can be dangerous, even deadly, for our domesticated pets.

Keep your pets safe during the blistering cold winter months with these tips.

Indoor pet tips

  • During severe weather (temperatures in the single digits and below), dogs should be let out only to relieve themselves. Cats should be kept indoors at all times.
  • Remove ice, salt and caked mud from your pet's paws and coat.
  • Before walks, put paw wax or doggie shoes on your dogs' paws for protection from from sidewalk salt and chemicals; wipe wax or balm off when back inside.
  • Make sure your pet’s bed is not on the floor in a cold or drafty area of your home.
  • Indoor dogs typically receive less exercise during cold weather and therefore may require fewer calories. You may want to consider feeding them smaller portions in order to avoid weight gain. You should also look for ways to keep them busy by providing enrichment through indoor activities.

Outdoor pet tips

  • Minnesota state law governs all companion animals be provided shelter from the elements. In severe weather, allow your pet to be in your house or garage.
  • Outdoor pets typically need more food in cold weather because they must burn more calories to keep warm.
  • Check for frostbite, especially on paws and ears.
  • Your pet should always have access to clean drinking water. Make sure it doesn't freeze! 
  • Keep an eye out for and clean up all antifreeze spills — one lick of the sweet-tasting fluid can be fatal to an animal.
  • Cats have been known to climb onto vehicle engines or inside wheel wells for warmth. Knock on the hood of your car before starting the engine if you're parked outdoors and suspect a cat could be hiding in your wheel wells are under the hood.

Signs of hypothermia

Symptoms of hypothermia include weak pulse, dilated pupils, decreased heart rate, extreme shivering, pale or blue mucous membranes, body temperature below 95 degrees, stupor and unconsciousness. Consequences of extreme hypothermia may include neurological problems including coma, heart problems, and kidney failure.

If you believe your pet or an animal you've found outside may be suffering from hypothermia, take them to an emergency clinic immediately. See a list of emergency clinics located in the Minneapolis/St Paul area.

Is it ok to leave your dog in the car during winter?

It's becoming increasingly common for people to take their dogs on errands and other quick trips in the car. Many local businesses are now dog-friendly, making it easier to spend a day out with your pooch in tow. Though we often hear of the dangers of leaving dogs in cars during summer months, winter can be just as dangerous. 

Avoid leaving your dog in the car, even if for brief periods of time. Temperatures 70 degrees or higher can cause heat stroke, while temperatures starting at 50 degrees and lower can lead to hypothermia, especially in small dogs. Moreover, if a concerned animal lover sees your pet in the car and is worried for their safety, you may encounter unwelcome comments, or worse, a damaged window.

If you’re running errands that require you to leave your dog in your vehicle, don’t risk it — leave them at home where they’re safe and secure.

More on cold weather and pets

See an animal left outside or in a parked car during winter? Learn the warning signs that an animal needs help, and tips on when you should contact local law enforcement.

Ever wonder how outdoor cats survive cold winters? Read more about how our pointy-eared pals keep warm in cold temps.

Pets go missing more often than you’d think. Especially in the winter, taking steps like using visible and current pet identification will help get them home (and out of the cold) more quickly.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline