Winter Weather Guide


You know the saying, “In Illinois, if you think the weather is awful, wait ten minutes, it will change.” Lately we haven’t been seeing a whole lot of “Old Man Winter”, but it is important to be prepared when he finally decides to settle in and stay awhile.  Most of us are informed of changes that need to be made to our homes and cars when the temperatures dip below freezing, but its also important that we keep our pets prepared for changes in the weather as well.

Playing outside in the snow can be fun and we frequently want to include our pets, but long term exposure to temperatures well below freezing can have extreme ramifications. Extremely cold temperatures can cause serious problems for animals who are outside for even short periods of time. For those of you who didn’t know, on Aug. 7, 2015, the Illinois General Assembly approved Public Act 099-0311, which imposes misdemeanor charges for Illinois pet owners who expose animals to extreme heat or cold. As the mercury continues to drop into the extreme temperature range we need to be sure we are taking our pets’ well-being into account. Most pets are not bred to withstand temperatures below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). Use this as a guideline: If it is too cold for you to be outside for a great length of time, it is too cold for your pet.

Dangers to outdoor dogs and cats from the weather include:

  • Frostbite of ear tips, extremities (in particular footpads)
  • Hypothermia
  • Death

Ice Ice Baby…..

Injuries can occur when indoor pets go outside to play or use the bathroom.  If your pet is not supervised while outside he/she may be at an increased risk for injury during this time of year.  Most common injuries seen as a result of cold weather can include:

  • Orthopedic injuries from slipping on icy surfaces such as bone fractures, and ligament injuries
  • Injuries to pads and paws from sharp ice fragments
  • Irritation in between toes from snow/ice balls forming in fur around toes
  • Falling through thin ice into freezing water

Consider purchasing booties for your dog to protect paws during a wintertime walk or even salt placed outside to melt the ice.  Most pets will not adapt to booties immediately (there are a slew of hysterical YouTube videos out there showing dogs trying to become accustomed to this foreign clothing item), therefore remember to ease them into the use of the booties before they are truly needed.

If your pet doesn’t wear booties, be sure to examine your pet’s feet when you come inside. Check for snow or ice accumulation especially between the toes. If you find packed snow balls or ice on your pet’s feet, slowly and gently apply warm water to release the snow balls from the fur.


Hypothermia occurs when an animal’s internal temperature becomes too low for the body to function normally. It can affect all animals but those who are wet, small, elderly, young, or outside with no shelter are at greatest risk for this condition. If you are one of many who enjoy “accessorizing” your pet(s) with the latest winter fashions, the use of a coat or sweater to provide extra protection against the elements when out for a short walk can be a great option for helping keep him/her warm.

The symptoms of hypothermia may include:

  • Severe lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased responsiveness
  • Low body temperature (on average below 98 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Discoloration of skin – especially red or blackened extremities

For those that have “farm dogs” that you cannot bring into a side porch or similar shelter during extreme weather, make sure your dog has access to the following at all times:

  • Shelter with draft-proof walls and good bedding such as straw or cedar
  • Water that has not frozen
  • Fresh food (exposure to the cold increases the body’s need for fuel and calories)
  • Blankets and coats

If you live in an area where you frequently see feral cats that you would like to help keep warm click here for some easy instructions for a low-cost shelter using a simple Rubbermaid storage container that can provide protection from the elements during the winter .

Hypothermia is a medical emergency and you should contact your veterinarian or a 24-hour veterinary emergency hospital immediately if you find an animal with any of the above symptoms.

Ice Melt & Antifreeze

Lesser known winter weather hazards include exposure to ice melt and antifreeze.

While we may not think of ice melt as being inherently toxic, these salt-based products can cause irritation to your pet’s mouth and skin. They can also cause vomiting and diarrhea depending on how much your pet would ingest. In addition, depending on the weight of your pet, ingestion of large quantities of this product can lead to severe electrolyte imbalances which can be fatal if left unaddressed. If possible, purchase pet-friendly ice melt to use at home. If your pet is exposed to ice melt during walks on streets and sidewalks, be sure to wipe off your pet’s paws to prevent irritation and ingestion.

Antifreeze is an extremely dangerous winter toxin. Pets are attracted to the odor and taste of it. Ingestion of antifreeze can cause acute, fatal kidney failure. Be sure to clean up any antifreeze spills that may result when adding or changing the antifreeze in your car and make sure antifreeze is in sealed containers that are out of reach of children and pets. If your pet does ingest antifreeze, seek immediate veterinary attention.

Final Thoughts

The majority of our pets need exercise year round.  Unfortunately this means braving the elements for their benefit, even when the prospect of being outdoors for any length of time is less than desirable. Even though walks and play time outdoors may be shorter in duration tduring this time of year, it is important that we keep in mind the dangers that may arise during this time of year. Keeping these dangers in mind, and taking precautions to avoid risks to your pet will insure that he/she stays healthy year round.


Author: SportsVet AMC

Welcome to SportsVet Animal Medical Center's veterinary blog! Every member of our team is dedicated to building, supporting, and maintaining positive and rewarding relationships between pets and their owners. Our veterinary focus is on enhancing life, optimizing function, and maximizing performance for every patient. We will periodically be posting about veterinary healthcare, helpful tips, important facts about your beloved pet, and every topic in between. Have a topic that you are particularly interested in, and want to know more? Contact us to request a blog post directly from our team!

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