Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

U of I logoCollege of Veterinary Medicine

Back to search page.

Tips To Help Pets Deal With Winter Weather


Pet Column for the week of January 7, 2008


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Dowling
Information Specialist

Much to the excitement of children around the Midwest winter weather arrived early with several inches of snow on the ground weeks before the season officially began. For many snowy winter weather means weekends filled with sledding, ice-skating, and skiing. However this time of year can be particularly hard on our furry companions. Pets can encounter many cold weather related hazards ranging from antifreeze consumption to hypothermia.

According to Dana Farbman, a certified veterinary technician at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill., one item that is commonly used in houses across the nation during the cold winter months is antifreeze. This substance is toxic to cats and dogs and, if consumed, can cause serious, and often fatal, kidney failure if veterinary attention is not sought quickly.

Unfortunately, the toxic nature of antifreeze is masked by its bright color and sweet flavor that is often irresistible to curious pets and young children. The main ingredient in many of these products is ethylene glycol, a substance with a toxicity that increases dramatically when metabolized by the liver. If you suspect that your pet has consumed antifreeze it is important to seek veterinary attention immediately.

Care should also be taken when including pets in your outdoor exercise routine, especially if the pet is young, old, or sick since these animals may have a more difficult time maintaining their body heat. These pets should be watched carefully for any signs that the pet is too cold when outdoors, which can include lethargy, refusing to walk, shivering, and whimpering.

According to Farbman, ice melt products can be another hazard of cold winter weather. While these products are extremely useful during the cold winter months, they can also be irritating to our pet's paws.

"The high concentration of salt and other chemicals in these products can cause anything from mild irritation to chemical burns on your pet's paws," explains Farbman. "Wiping your pet's paws with a moist cloth when returning indoors can help prevent these problems."

Canine companions normally housed in the garage or in outdoor runs need adequate warmth and shelter. Dog houses should contain ample bedding materials, like blankets or hay, to help insulate your pet from sub-freezing temperatures.

It is also important for owners to make sure that their outdoor pets have access to fresh, unfrozen water. Water bowls with built-in heating elements should be used when temperatures drop below freezing, this will prevent your pets water supply from freezing all winter long.

One hazard that is often overlooked by owners is the danger that accidental medication consumption pose to our pets. The cold winter months mark the beginning of cold and flu season for humans, which generally means houses stocked with over the counter and prescription remedies.

Pets are curious by nature and a container of cold medicine left on a counter or table may look like a fun play-toy or tasty treat to your furry companion. According to Farbman, the most common call that the Animal Poison Control Center receives is the one involving a pet accidentally consuming human medication.

"Last year we received over 78,000 calls involving medication consumption, which was a 70 percent increase in the number of calls in 2005," says Farbman. "We hope that by informing owners of the danger we can see a decrease in this number over the next few years."

In order to keep animals away from dangerous medications Farbman advises owners to keep medications out of reach of pets. This means placing drugs in drawers and cabinets that you know your pet cannot open, and remembering to put medications away after every use.

For more winter safety tips and household toxin information contact your local veterinarian or visit www.aspca.org/apcc/.