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Are you keeping your pet safe in the winter?

Winter Weather Pet Safety Tips

Updated on April 20, 2021


Colder winter weather (yes, even in Phoenix) means new routines for your outdoor pets. Most of us have a pet that spends part of its time outdoors, and when the weather is balmy, it’s actually better for them to spend as much time outside as they can. But cold winter weather is another situation altogether and can pose some additional risks to your outdoor pets. For this entry, we want to take a look at some of the issues a pet owner has to deal with that are unique to a winter weather environment. As in all cases with pets, we recommend you consult your vet if you are not sure about any of the situations we raise in this article. Much better to be safe than sorry.

Cold Cats Sleep under the Hood

Do you have a lot of feral cats in your neighborhood, or on your ranch property? If so, then it is a good possibility they will take shelter in the engine housing compartment (under the hood) of your vehicle, especially if you tend to park it outside. Recently run engines make for a great source of heat and cats will happily climb up into your wheel well to take advantage of that. If this sounds like it might be the case for you, make some noise when you approach your vehicle, and let it run for a minute before you begin to drive. If your noise doesn’t scare off the wild, furry visitor, then the engine noise should do the trick. Not afraid of cats? There have been incidents of snakes seeking warmth in car engine blocks as well.

Watch out for Deer near the Road

In a related note, you should use caution in colder weather when driving at night in areas known for large deer population. During the day, an asphalt-covered road will soak up the sun’s heat and radiate it back outward after dark. This is why some of you may have seen large numbers of deer near the road when driving at night (this tends to happen in rural areas). They gathered near a heat source to soak up the warmth. This tends to happen much more frequently in the winter.

Cat and Dog Fur Isn't Really That Warm

OK, so let’s talk about your dog or cat. Many people believe that just because these animals have natural fur coats, they aren’t as susceptible to the chillier weather, but this is just not true. Animals with thinner coats, lower body fat rates and particularly those who engage in less activity tend to get colder than their counterparts who have thicker coats and do a lot more running around. Of course we think you should always bring in your dog or cat at night, but they can be affected by chilly temperatures in the daytime as well. If you have to go to work and absolutely cannot leave your pets indoors on a cold day, look into getting an insulated dog house, or even just leaving the access door to the garage open while you’re gone. This will shelter them from the wind, which can cut temperatures in half.

Watch the Wind Chill When You Transport Your Horse

Special note to horse owners: if you own a horse, then you already know the basics, but we would like to give you a friendly reminder regarding the transport of your animals. Many horses have been lost to wind chills when being transported between the Phoenix area and Flagstaff, or from Vegas to the Reno area simply because of the increase in elevation that occurs between these destinations. Some folks forget they are climbing in elevation when they transport their horses, which automatically means a decrease in the outside temperature. This also means wind chill becomes a major issue.

Feed Your Pets a Little Extra during the Cold Months

Animals natural instincts have them eating a little more in the month leading up to winter in order to store fat and generate warmth during the cold months. But we want to emphasize the word little. A few extra calories during the colder months can be helpful to dogs and cats that spend part of their days outside. But this does not mean you should double their food portions or even increase by a quarter. Just give them a little extra kibble in their bowls (or whatever it is you regularly feed them) during meal time and they’ll be able to naturally store up a little extra fat. Just make sure you reduce the portions when Spring rolls around and see that they get some extra ‘runaround’ time when the weather gets better.

Make an Emergency Preparedness Kit for Potential Bad Weather

Of course, no one can accurately predict things like a tornado, but impending heavy rains or blizzards are predicted with more accuracy these day. You should already have an emergency preparedness kit (water and imperishable food; enough for five days, flares, a first aid kit, etc.) for you and your family in case one of these kinds of disasters strikes your neighborhood, but think also about your pet. Keep a small bag of food as well as any medicines they might need on hand. Don’t think it’s worth saving your pet while you’re trying to save your family? Many pets have been useful in rescue situations where they’ve alerted Search and Rescue Personnel, or provided warmth, or even driven off wild animals.

Watch Your Pet for These Hypothermia Signs

Keep an eye out for unusual behavior such as:

  • Constant whining
  • Slower movement
  • Seems generally weak or even begins looking for a place to burrow
  • Starts digging when they usually do not do this

Bring your pet inside immediately and hydrate with room temperature water.

Still Walking Your Dog in the Winter Weather?

That’s great! It’s always important to keep yourself and your pet healthy and this will let your animal stay in shape for when it comes time to run around in the warm weather once again. Be mindful of the changes in your surroundings when you take your walks. Particularly be aware of frozen ponds or lakes. If you walk without a leash on your pet, they will sometimes be tempted to go see what has happened to their usual environment and can risk slipping through the ice. Dogs especially are wonderfully curious creatures, but don’t always know when they might be in danger. Consider using a leash if you do tend to take walks near frozen bodies of water.

Be Careful near Ditches or Culverts after Heavy Rains

If you regularly walk near a ditch that a dog knows is typically dry, then its curiosity over why there is running water in that area will compel them to investigate. While they might appear to be keeping a respectful distance, the water could have softened the earth where they are standing and potentially give way.

Winter Weather Affects Indoor Pets Too

The cooler weather will mean you must use your home’s heating system, and while it may keep your place warm during the day, night is another matter. Most people have lower settings on their thermostats for night-time use, but what many people may not realize is that their thermostats sit about five feet off the floor, and it can be much colder near your floor than it is where your thermostat sits. Remember, warm air rises, so if you have pets that typically lay on the floor, make sure they have a warm bed to lay in, or raise that bed a foot or two off your floor to keep your pets from getting chilly. This includes traditionally non-outdoor pets such as hamsters or snakes or birds.

Keep Your House Temperature Cozy for Your Pets

Make sure your heating system is in proper working order before the cold weather sets in (of course, this is good advice for your human family members as well as pets; some folks like to sleep on or near the floor, so make sure your home environment is a warm one in the winter months), and make sure any caged animals are not subject to drafts. Sometimes a specific draft in the house can be up to 20 degrees colder than the rest of your home. This can lead to unhealthy conditions for your pets, so even if you feel warm in your kitchen, make sure the parakeet in the parlor isn’t subject to slow-moving cold air.

Pet-Proof Your Home

Of course, spending more time indoors during the winter for a pet that is typically outside a large part of the day means new adjustments in living conditions. Try to keep your dog free from sudden or loud noises. Teach your kids about how a quieter environment is better and healthier for their dog or cat. Make sure your home is pet proof so a curious puppy won’t figure out how to open the cupboard under the sink and taste those interesting-smelling chemicals he knows are back there. Dog poisoning happens much more often than you might think just because people assume their pet isn’t intelligent enough to figure out how to open a small cupboard door.

Keep Dangerous Foods Away from Your Pets

The most dangerous substances for your dogs to ingest are raisins, grapes, chocolate or candies that might contain the artificial sweetener xylitol. Chocolate is dangerous for dogs, but the other ingredients listed are potentially fatal. Here’s a list of other poisons bad for your dogs that you don’t want them to get into. This would also include cleaning up spills in your garage, especially anti-freeze. Pets can become too curious and ingest something they had no intention of swallowing. If you can, leave the pets at home when you go out. Everyone knows and has heard of pets – specifically dogs – suffocating in a hot car during the warmer months, but many do not know that a car can cool down in very short order in the winter months, especially at night. If you live in a cold weather environment, the heating system you used to warm up the car interior can lose its potency in as little as five minutes when not in use, even in a mildly chilly environment. Letting the car idle is not a good idea either as carbon monoxide from the exhaust can build up inside the car’s cabin if there is no breeze.

CASH 1 wants your animals to stay safe and healthy this winter, but if they do catch a cold and you need to make an unexpected visit to the vet, come see us for small loans that can make up for the potential financial shortfall that a visit to the vet can cause.

Photograph of author Joseph Priebe

Joseph Priebe

Joseph Priebe takes pride in assisting audiences with his articles to help them make sound financial decisions.

With over ten years of experience writing financial content his goal at CASH 1 has always been creating engaging and easy-to-digest information for anyone searching for immediate or long-term monetary solutions.

When Joseph is not writing about personal finance, you can find him photographing the Southwest United States with his 4x5 Graflex Crown Graphic camera. He is based in Phoenix, Arizona.