December 1, 2021

Avoid these pitfalls to keep your pet safe this winter
Dr. Nate LaHue, DVM, MPVM

Well it’s that time of year, the cold and the snow are here to stay, the lakes are freezing over and the holidays are upon us. Winter can be a hazardous time for pets and a little extra knowledge and care can help prevent a costly vet visit. These are some of the dangers this time of year to be on the look out for:


While some of our pets have nice thick coats for winter (think huskies) many do not and become cold just like you. Hypothermia is a real winter risk for many breeds, cats included. Hypothermia can set in and a short amount of time and can be a life threatening emergency. Don’t leave your pet outside unattended for long periods of time, pay attention if your pet is shivering on long walks, and think about getting a good coat for your dog. Booties can also help protect their feet. If you absolutely must leave your pet outside, invest in a good insulated kennel or house with plenty of warm bedding. Just as in the hot summer, avoid leaving your pet unattended in your vehicle, as they can become hypothermic quickly, especially when they are not moving around. Don’t leave the car running either, as ice formation around tailpipes can lead to dangerous carbon monoxide build up. A good rule of thumb is that if its too cold for you, its too cold for them.

Iced over lakes, especially at the beginning of the season, can be especially dangerous as they can fall through thin ice. Prevent dogs from running out on ice you have not personally checked for thickness and keep them close by and away from thin spots when you are out on the ice. If they do fall through you will have to pull them up, but be careful not to fall in yourself. Lie on your stomach with your weight as far from the hole as possible. Dry them off and warm them up using warm air (i.e. the car heater vent). Do not use isolated hot packs as this could worsen the problem. For severe or prolonged hypothermia, where they have stopped shivering, bring your pet into the veterinarian right away as hypothermia can cause secondary life threating events.

Road salt and De-icers:

Salt and chemical de-icers can be dangerous to your dog. They are often ingested when your dog licks their paws or eaten off the ground. In small quantities they may cause GI upset and in larger quantities can cause dangerous electrolyte imbalances and renal failure. They can also be severely irritating to the skin and paws. Calcium salts are the most dangerous but magnesium salts, potassium chloride and sodium chloride all have the potential to cause problems. To avoid this use pet-safe de-icers at home such as sand or kitty litter. Elsewhere avoid areas that have been de-iced or use booties and don’t let your pet lick the ground or drink from melt-water


While necessary to making our cars run in the winter it causes potentially fatal kidney injury in our pets and its sweet taste entices them to drink it. Make sure you check your cars carefully for any leaks, clean up leaks immediately, and avoid driveways and parking lots with your pet. You can also switch from ethylene glycol to propylene glycol (or pet-safe) antifreeze. If you pet does consume antifreeze bring them to your veterinarian immediately as early treatment is associated with better outcomes.


Being mindful of your decorations and present wrapping can help your pets avoid harm. This can be especially important for cats as many of those beautiful decorations may become their new favorite toy. Avoid tinsel where cats can get it and put away ribbon as soon as presents are unwrapped, cats love playing and chewing on both and if swallowed cause a linear foreign body, a particularly dangerous type that requires intensive surgery. Additionally, lighting and bunting can entangled cats so use care and place it generally out of reach of cats. Mistletoe is also toxic to pets.

Holiday meals:

Dietary indiscretion can make your pets sick. Keep them out of the trash and avoid including them in the holiday meal. Many of the foods we eat are high in fat, which can cause severe pancreatitis, diarrhea, and vomiting. Dogs and cats are also lactose intolerant, so dairy products can cause vomiting and diarrhea as well. Additionally make sure to keep chocolate, which is toxic to pets, safely out of the way. Other potential toxins include onions and garlic, grapes, xylitol (a sweetener in many products), and macadamia nuts.

House Guests:

While fun, holiday parties and visiting family can cause additional stress on your pets, with loud noises, new people (especially children), and lots of activity. Make sure your pet has a quiet safe place to escape to and make sure visiting children know how to correctly behave around pets. Additional be especially attentive not to let your pet escape as stressful events are a leading cause of run-away pets. Feli-way, a cat pheromone, is available in sprays and diffusers and can help calm anxious cats. Don’t forget to still give them plenty of attention and exercise!