As you’re winterizing your house and pulling out your sweaters, it’s also time to start getting your pet ready for colder weather.

Protect them

Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly in both dogs and cats, especially those that are older, smaller or with short coats. Consider sweaters or waterproof coats for walks or brief time outside.

Pennsylvania’s Libre’s Law prohibits pet owners from leaving dogs outside for more than 30 minutes in temperatures below 32 degrees or above 90 degrees, whether they have shelter or not.

“If you have a dog that is spending some time outside during the winter make sure you provide a draft-free enclosure and put ample amounts of straw (not hay) in it,” said Dr. Kristine Shaw of Grand Canyon Veterinary Hospital of Wellsboro.

Lissa Hamilton, regional director of Cause For Paws, said shelters for outdoor pets or feral cats can be cheap and easy to make.

“The most important thing to remember when making an outdoor house is to be sure that it is safe and can retain body heat,” she said. “You must also always use straw to line the bottom because it repels moisture and retains body heat. Never use hay, blankets, towels or cloth as these hold moisture and can freeze once damp.”

Hamilton also said making sure cat shelters have two entrances is important so one can be used as an escape route if a wild animal invades. The entrances should be covered with thick pieces of flexible plastic to add extra protection and insulation.

Some cost-effective shelters include:

  • Line a large plastic cooler with a thin form of insulation, like foam board or foil bubble material. Lay straw on the bottom.
  • Use a foam cooler inside a large plastic storage tub/tote. Fill the space between and the bottom with insulation and straw.
  • Stack two tires with a board in between, securing them together with screws or heavy glue. Cut an opening in both tires and add flexible insulation and straw. Add wood on top as a roof to keep out snow and rain.
  • Craft a wooden structure, similar to a dog house, with two smaller openings. Line with foam board insulation and straw.
  • Stack bales of straw like an igloo. Lay a tarp on the ground and cover with straw. Leave cracks in the walls as entrances and exits. Cover the entire structure with a heavy-duty tarp.

Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries offers outdoor cat shelters for a $15 donation. Call 570-376-3646 for more information.


Even if you’re not keen on taking walks when it’s cold, dogs still need the same amount of daily exercise. Not doing so can lead to behavioral issues due to boredom and frustration, according to Laura Clarson, manager of Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries in Tioga.

“Dogs, especially younger ones, get restless easily,” she said. “Keeping up their daily exercise year-round is not only important for their health, but for their temperament and happiness and your own sanity.” suggests turning normal leisurely walks into interval training – one minute walk, 20 second jog, one minute walk, 20 second sideways shuffle, one minute walk, 20 seconds of running backwards. Repeating this five times is a 20-minute workout for you and your dog.

Though dogs’ time outside should be limited in extremely cold temperatures, try letting them out in shorter, more frequent bursts, said Clarson. Or, come up with creative indoor exercise – put your dog on a leash and walk or jog up and down the stairs, blow bubbles for them to chase, play tug or fetch, hide treats or toys for them to hunt, or set up a small obstacle course. Offer a treat puzzle toy to keep their minds stimulated and switch out other toys often to avoid boredom. If you have an unlimited budget and space, check out treadmills specifically for dogs.

Poison protection

According to the Humane Society of the United States, many chemicals commonly used during winter can injure or kill your pet.

Antifreeze, due to its sweet taste, may attract both animals and children. It should be used sparingly and wiped up immediately if spilled. The HSUS website says coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic to pets, wildlife and people. If you believe your pet has ingested antifreeze or another toxic chemical, get them to a veterinarian right away.

Animals are also at risk of irritation or poisoning from rock salt used to melt ice on sidewalks, said Dr. Shaw.

“If you walk along roads in winter and there is salt on the roads it can irritate dog’s feet,” she said. “Some dogs will like to have snow booties put on their feet but for those who don’t tolerate it, you can clean their feet off with a very wet washcloth when they come in from a walk.

Preventative medicine

Dr. Shaw said one of the most important things you can do for your pet’s health is continue flea and tick prevention year-round.

“Preventing ticks is the most important because of our high prevalence of Lyme and other tick borne diseases. A warm day in January can bring out the ticks and we don’t want our dogs to be unprotected,” she said.

Other pet health issues may crop up or be caused by cold, dry weather as well:

Hypothermia – Symptoms include shivering and lethargy which can lead to death if untreated. If you suspect your animal has hypothermia, wrap it in warm blankets and take it to a veterinarian immediately.

Frostbite – Symptoms start as pale or gray hard skin that is extremely painful when warmed, followed by blisters, then darkening of the skin. Untreated frostbite can lead to gangrene or death of the skin or extremity.

Arthritis – Although not caused by cold temperatures, pets’ arthritis or joint pain can flare up in colder temperatures so it’s important to keep them warm and limit time outside.

Grooming – Your pet’s coat likely get thicker in winter, so maintain a regular brushing and grooming. Matted fur can painfully pull at the skin and should be carefully cut out. Dogs’ long nails can cause them to slip on ice outside. If clipping the nails, avoid the quick, or the darker part of the nail closer to the toe that houses sensitive nerves.

Prolonged exposure to the cold can be detrimental to pets who go missing. Make sure your dog or cat is microchipped and that the chip is registered with your correct name, address and phone number. Collars should be secure with appropriate tags and identification up to date.

If your pet does go missing, place an article of your clothing, their bedding or litter box outside as a familiar scent. Notify local veterinarians, shelters/rescues and media as well as post on social media with a clear photo and description. Some area shelters/rescues can also lend humane traps for dogs and cats.