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Active Living

Winter Weather Tips for the Animals in Our Care

Katherine Waters, Program Leader — Food Safety

January 2014

Extreme Cold Update

Our animals, especially indoor/outdoor pets, probably do not have an adequate winter coat for protection in these very low temperatures. Hypothermia and dehydration are the two most probable life-threatening conditions for animals in cold weather. Wet conditions and wind-chill add greatly to the cold-stress for animals.

Pets should be brought inside or into protected covered areas, provided with plenty of bedding and food and drinking water. Never leave your pet unattended in a parked car for any period of time.

Livestock should be provided with wind-break and roof shelter.

Cold weather is here and it is time to give some thought to caring for our pets and livestock, both inside and out.

The Basics: Food, Water, and Shelter


Nutrition is a particularly important concern for livestock. Outdoor animals require more calories in the winter to generate energy to ward off the cold. As a result, add 10 to 15 percent more to its daily diet to allow it to meet those needs. Another way to meet cold weather calorie requirements is by adding some fats to their regular ration. Be careful, though, as too much fat can lead to diarrhea and dehydration.

Horses and other livestock need a windbreak, cover, warm bedding, abundant high-quality feed, and fresh water. In freezing temperatures water must be heated or changed several times daily.

Bedding like thick layers of straw or shavings is critical, since it will keep the animals off the cold, wet ground. The open side of any livestock enclosure should be faced be away from prevailing winds.


During cold weather, smaller pets should be brought indoors if possible. If you are unable to keep your dog or cat inside during cold weather, provide it with a warm, solid shelter against wind. The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry, and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds. Avoid space heaters and heat lamps because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are capable of causing burns if not set up properly.

Keep an eye on your pet's water. Sometimes owners don't realize that a water bowl has frozen and their pet can't get anything to drink. Animals that don't have access to clean, unfrozen water are more likely to drink out of puddles or gutters, which can be polluted with oil, antifreeze, household cleaners, and other chemicals.

Beware of cats under the car hood. Cats will curl up against almost anything to stay warm — including car engines. Cats caught in moving engine parts can be seriously hurt or killed. Before you turn your engine on, check beneath the car or make a lot of noise by honking the horn or rapping on the hood.

Environmental Hazards

If you live near a pond or lake, be very cautious about letting your dog off the leash. Animals can easily fall through the ice, and it is very difficult for them to escape on their own.

Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate a pet’s paws. Wipe their paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates their mouth.

Antifreeze is a deadly poison. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze out of reach. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.

Hypothermia and Frostbite

Hypothermia, or a body temperature that is below normal, is a condition that occurs when an animal is not able to keep her body temperature from falling below normal. It happens when animals spend too much time in cold temperatures, or when animals with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold. In mild cases, animals will shiver and show signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As the condition progresses, muscles stiffen, heart and breathing rates slow down, and they will stop responding to stimuli.

If you notice these symptoms, you need to get your pet warm and take her to your veterinarian. You can wrap her in blankets, possibly with a hot water bottle or an electric blanket — as always, wrapped in fabric to prevent against burning the skin.

Frostbite happens when an animal's (or a person's) body gets cold and pulls all the blood from the extremities to the center of the body to stay warm. The animal's ears, paws, or tail can get cold enough that ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage it. The tricky thing about frostbite is that it's not immediately obvious. Affected tissue doesn't show signs of damage for several days.

If you suspect your pet may have frostbite, bring her into a warm environment right away. You can soak her extremities in warm water for about 20 minutes to melt the ice crystals and restore circulation. It's important that you don't rub the frostbitten tissue, however — the ice crystals can do a lot of damage to the tissue. Once your pet is warm, wrap her up in some blankets and take her to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can assess the damage and treat your pet for pain or infection if necessary.


American Animal Hospital Association. (2014). Winter pet care. Lakewood, CO: American Animal Hospital Association.

Clemson Cooperative Extension. (2014). Cold weather for pets and livestock. Clemson, SC: Clemson Cooperative Extension.

Other Resources

Staying Safe This Winter — Tips for safe winter travel, dressing warm, and preventing falls.

Winter Impacts Resources on responding and protecting yourself against ice storms, heavy snow, or other extreme winter weather damage.

Protect Your Pets During Snow StormThe American Red Cross — Winter weather can be hard on pets, especially for outdoor dogs and cats.

Protect Your Pet During Winter and Cold WeatherThe Humane Society of the United States — Tips to keep cats, dogs, and horses safe and comfortable.

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