Pets in Winter: Protecting Pets From Winter Chills

Claire Dunling

Having a fur coat definitely has its perks when the weather is cold, but even the furriest of friends still need a little help during the winter months… there are many potential dangers for pets in winter that are very easily overlooked.

Cats in winter

Cats are generally sensible enough to avoid the cold weather although there are a few things to be aware of to help protect your cat in winter:

Antifreeze poisoning in cats

Antifreeze, used in car engine radiators, contains ethylene glycol and is often sweet tasting. This makes it highly palatable to cats and dogs.  Cats can be poisoned by antifreeze just by walking through a puddle of it on a garage floor and cleaning their paws afterwards.  The antifreeze poison is absorbed rapidly, causing neurological damage and vomiting often within an hour.  If a cat survives this stage then renal failure ensues. Sadly, most cats that ingest antifreeze die even with treatment.

To be safe, even if you don’t have a cat, spilt antifreeze should be cleared up to protect yours and/or neighbouring cats from antifreeze poison. It is just being a good neighbour.

If you are a cat-owning car driver, keep any antifreeze containers tightly closed, in a cupboard and well out of reach. Also, keep an eye on the driveway for leaks – a garage repair bill is better than a vet’s bill!

Car engines

A common but often fatal hazard encountered by cats is being injured whilst sheltering next to warm car engines.  Sometimes the worst that happens is the cat just goes for a drive with an extra terrified passenger, but many vets have seen horrific injuries caused by this type of accident which is commonly fatal. Giving your car bonnet a tap and mentally checking when you last saw the cat – before starting the engine is a useful habit to develop!

A wet dog in a car on a cold day is just as at risk from temperature change as a dry one on a hot day
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

Dogs in winter

Most dogs live indoors but if your dog does venture into the cold there are a few pointers to bear in mind. Some breeds of dogs with little body fat such as greyhounds or very elderly and arthritic dogs will feel the cold badly. In such cases a coat is a sensible, if not an essential investment, each winter. Hey, it means you get to buy them a present too. Plus a cracking Instagram moment when they try it on!

Walking in a winter wonderland

When walking always take care around frozen ponds, or waterways. A fun moment of slippy-slidey exploration can rapidly become a serious problem for dogs and owners. The former when fun turns bad and the latter in desperate rescue attempts.

Watch out for compacted snow or ice between their toes. If they suddenly start limping, pop up the offending paw and clear it. Once you’re back at home check to see if their paws are sore. If so, apply some dog friendly cream such as YuCARE.

After you’ve taken off the wellies and changed your socks, remember that unguarded heaters and fires result in pets unwittingly burning themselves as they try to get dry or keep warm.

Dogs die in cold cars

Finally, a wet dog in a car on a cold day is just as at risk from temperature change as a dry one on a hot day. Hypothermia is just as bad as heatstroke. So, just apply the rule “never leave a dog unattended in a car ” whatever the weather.

The Small furries in winter

Many guinea pigs and rabbits are left outside over the winter in housing with little protection from the elements. This results in increased susceptibility to disease, weight loss and frequently death. Pay attention to the following basic guidelines to make a real difference to their quality of life during the winter months:


Place hutches in a sheltered area ideally in a garage or shed but if they have to be outside, site them in a sheltered area and ensure they are weatherproof and insulated. Also, remember car fumes in an enclosed garage are fatal!


Supply lots of fresh bedding into which the animals can burrow. Remember this will need changing regularly to stop the build-up of ammonia. But you’ll know when that happens, you’ll have a nose for it!

Food and Water

Extra food will be needed in the cold weather as animals burn more calories to keep warm. Don’t forget to defrost drinking bottles.


Beware of badgers and foxes who may also find the winter tough – making them bolder at this time of year and more likely to try an break into hutches and runs.

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!