Cold Weather: Traveling & Outdoor Safety
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

Dog Outside by antifreezeHypothermia is a major concern during cold weather. Inadequate shelter, insufficient calories, or becoming wet can make a pet much more susceptible to this condition. There are additional indoor and outdoor hazards associated with cold weather. We hope this article will help you become more aware of how you can keep your dog comfortable and safe during the cold weather season.

Outdoor housing

Make sure doghouses are not too large. A correctly sized doghouse should allow your dog to comfortably lie down and that is it. A doghouse that is too large will not provide proper insulation to keep your dog warm and frostbite on tails and tips of ears can occur in severely cold weather. Preferably, the doghouse will be placed on top of styrofoam insulation and the dog will have a mat or bed inside the doghouse.

Pets who are outside in cold weather will need extra calories to keep warm. When the temperature is below freezing, you may need to increase calories by as much as 30%, depending on the pet and housing conditions.

Shivering is a sign your pet is too cold and indicates the start of hypothermia. A shivering pet should be slowly warmed until signs of hypothermia are gone.

Provide your pet with fresh, unfrozen water available at all times. Avoid stainless steel or metal bowls; instead, use heated buckets or bowls.

Walking in the cold

Sidewalk ice melters like salt, magnesium, or calcium chloride can cause irritation to paws and are toxic when ingested causing stomach upsets, and if enough is ingested, nerve damage. To prevent salt from hurting your pet's feet, we recommend using dog boots and a non-toxic ice melter like Ice Melt Down for your own sidewalk. If your pet has walked on a salty area, wipe off his paws with a moist towel.

Snowballs can be fun unless they are between the toes. Snow collecting between the toes of dogs can be very painful, and if large enough, obstruct blood flow to the toes. Help your pet remove these collections of snow while you are out walking. Dog boots would help eliminate this problem.

Thin ice on lakes is hazardous for people and animals. Keep your pet away from lakes or other bodies of water which may have thin ice.

In the northern United States, remember that snowmobile trails can be dangerous places. Be sure to keep your pets off of the trails. One of the most seriously injured dogs I have cared for was hit by a snowmobile.

Ice on walks is not only dangerous for us two-legged creatures, but for our four-legged friends as well. Slipping on the ice is of special concern for older dogs who may already be stiff due to arthritis.

Keeping warm

Speaking of arthritis, as in people, cold can increase the discomfort of arthritis. Providing an orthopedic bed in a warm part of the house, using a dog sweater, and providing some indoor exercise can help arthritic pets be more comfortable.

During the cold winter months, many people use space heaters and woodburning stoves. Do not allow unsupervised pets in areas with space heaters which could be bumped over by the pet. Placing 'Scat mats' on the floor may also be helpful in keeping pets away from stoves and heaters.


Dog sitting by antifreezeAntifreeze should be out of pet's reach. Antifreeze, which contains ethylene glycol, is extremely poisonous; a few teaspoons can be lethal. Its sweet taste attracts pets, and ingesting even a tiny amount causes fatal kidney toxicity. In the body, ethylene glycol is metabolized into 3 major compounds. Some cause central nervous system (CNS) and respiratory depression, others cause metabolic acidosis, and oxalate which combines with calcium to form crystals, causes blockage of the tubules in the kidneys. So, when tuning up your car for that holiday trip, make sure your pet does not have access to antifreeze containers and clean up any spills immediately. Better yet, use the new types of antifreeze such as Prestone LowTox and Sierra Antifreeze Coolant that are safer. If you think your pet has consumed antifreeze, contact your veterinarian immediately. Time is of the essence.

Boarding and Traveling

If traveling with your pet for the holidays, be sure to make the necessary plans early.

Dog in crate inside carPet carriers and crates are the best way to restrain your dog while traveling. Check the condition of your pet's crate, and if traveling on public transportation, be sure the crate meets the carrier's requirements.

Clip your pet's nails so they will not become caught in the crate door or other openings.

Reservations with airlines and hotels should be booked early. Be sure they know you are bringing your pet so they can advise you of any special requirements.

A health check-up for your pet and up-to-date vaccinations are important. An interstate health certificate and a copy of the vaccination records may be necessary in some cases.

Pack your pet's medications and special diets where they are easily accessible. Be sure your pet has water available.

Pet ID TagPlace a collar on your dog, and always have a pet identification tag attached to your dog's collar or harness. Make sure the address and phone number are current. Include a phone number that can be reached when you are away from home.

Some pets are afraid of traveling and others may have motion sickness. See our article Car Sickness and Fear of Riding in Cars for help with these issues.

If heading South, remember it will be warmer and make allowances for your pet. Protect your pet against fleas and heartworms, too.

When traveling into snow country, your pet may need a sweater. Boots can help protect your pet's feet from ice, snow, and salt.

If you are traveling during the holidays, and need to leave your pet(s) at home, start to make accommodations for your pet(s) early. Many boarding facilities fill up very fast. Responsible pet sitters are a good alternative. If they are unfamiliar with your house or pet(s) have them come over and get acquainted before you leave.

Wherever you may be with your pet this winter, we hope it will be a happy and beautiful season for you.
   Click here for the web viewable version of this article.

Click here to email this article to a friend.

Copyright © 1997-2017, Foster & Smith, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted from