Pet Care 101: Don’t Leave Your Pet Outdoors in the Winter

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February 15, 2017 | Pet Care, Winter, Outdoors

Pet Care 101: Don’t Leave Your Pet Outdoors in the Winter


Winter is now in full swing and of course with the winter months come the cold temperatures. Here in the Pacific Northwest, our climate tends to be more moderate, however, there are times when the temperatures here can be uncharacteristically colder bringing with them wind, snow and freezing rain. If you have a pet it’s important to understand the risks that cold weather can bring to the health and life of your pet.

Don’t Leave Them Outside

A good rule of thumb when it comes to keeping pets safe in the winter is that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them. Extreme cold temperatures are just as dangerous for our pets as they are for us. Like humans, dogs and cats can be vulnerable to hyperthermia.

Outdoor Cats

Cats can die if their body temperature falls below 60 degrees.  Short-haired cats that are elderly and in poor health are particularly vulnerable compared to healthy, long-haired cats. Once a cat gets outside in the cold, they will seek warmth wherever they can find it, such as crawling into the warm engines of cars. It’s not uncommon for even stray cats to sneak into an open garage door and crawl up into the engine of a warm car.  This, of course, is very dangerous for the cat the next time the car engine is started.  If you do have an outdoor cat, or care for a group of feral cats, it’s important to set up a shelter for them to stay warm. Make sure that the shelter is insulated and that there is plenty of water and extra food for them to help in keeping them warmer.

Outdoor Dogs

The same is true for dogs.  While there are some dog breeds that are made for cold weather, such as the Husky or Malamute, most other breeds of dogs are very vulnerable to the cold; especially smaller, short-haired breeds. Dogs can be vulnerable to frost-bite and hypothermia as well.  Frost-bite can happen when the dog’s body gets too cold. The body begins to pull all the blood from their extremities toward the center of their body to keep them warm. A dog’s ears, tail and paws can get so cold that ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage it. The tricky thing about frost-bite is that the obvious symptoms can be delayed for several days.  If you suspect your dog has frost-bite, soak his extremities in warm water for about 20 minutes to melt the ice crystals and restore circulation then wrap him in a blanket and take him to the vet; do not rub the extremities if you suspect frost-bite.

Hypothermia is another dangerous winter condition that can cause weakness, lethargy and depression in your dog.  Again, if you suspect you dog may have hypothermia, take him to the vet immediately.

Winter Dangers

In addition to the cold temperatures, it’s important to be aware of other environmental hazards that can be a danger to your pet in the winter. Toxic chemicals such as anti-freeze that are used to make our lives easier in winter can pose a huge threat to animals who are drawn to the smell of such chemicals.

Another danger, particularly for dogs, is the salt that is used on roadways to provide more road traction for vehicles. The salt gets onto their paws when outside and then they lick their paws exposing them to this toxin.  It’s important to wash their paws off with warm water if you live in an area where salt is used as a deicer on the road.

Other environmental factors that can be dangerous for pets in the winter are frozen lakes and ponds.  While they may look to be frozen solid, they may not be and can pose a danger for dogs and cats falling through the ice.

Tips to Help

What should you do if you see that a pet has been left out in the cold? First, don’t assume that the owner is being negligent; they may not be aware of the dangers the cold can pose to their pets. If this is the case, just politely tell them and they will likely correct the situation. If they aren’t quite sure how to correct the situation, help them by sharing these tips that we’ve shared with you.  You could also offer to help them build a warm outdoor shelter for their pets if they must stay outside.

However, if you are concerned that there is negligence involved you should definitely take action. Believe it or not, it can be a crime to leave pets outside in extreme cold without food and shelter.  The Humane Society of the United States has published a guide for what to do if you suspect that an animal has been intentionally left outside. The first step is to report the situation to local law enforcement such as the Sherriff’s Dept. or local Animal Services. Another organization to contact is the local Humane Society or other pet shelter; while they are not law enforcement, they will likely have resources they can connect you with in order to help.

During the winter months, law enforcement agencies do see an increase in complaints about animals being left out in the cold and owners who do so can face criminal charges in certain parts of the country.

Pet Boarding & Daycare in SeaTac, WA

Another good option for protecting your pet from the cold is Daycare at a Pet Boarding facility.  Why not help a neighbor out by offering to pay for a day or two of pet boarding? It’s a small investment when you consider the vet costs of trying to heal an animal who has frostbite or hypothermia.

Here at Hillrose Pet Resort, we offer Dog and Cat daycare and we also offer a drop-in option; meaning, we can take your pet for the day without prior notice.  Our Reservation form makes it easy to arrange and we are conveniently located near SeaTac Airport.  We hate the thought of pets being left out in the cold, so we are happy to provide a safe and warm environment where your pet can play during the day and avoid the dangers of cold weather.

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