Southeast Texas is better known for its summers than its winters, but the historic winter storm of February 2021, and this year’s ice storm, showed us that Old Man Winter knows exactly where we live—and he enjoys the element of surprise.

Sadly, unprecedented storms catch many Texans—and their pets—off guard and unprepared. Therefore, you must not let unpredictable weather jeopardize your pet’s safety. Here are seven winter safety tips that will keep your four-legged friend warm and cozy when—not if—winter weather returns. 

#1: Stock up on essential pet supplies

The Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team encourages pet owners to keep essential pet supplies on hand at all times—in every season—in case of an emergency. These include:

  • Pet food
  • Bottled water
  • Pet first aid supplies
  • Litter
  • Pet-safe ice melt
  • Medications (i.e., daily prescriptions and as-needed medications for anxiety or storm phobia).

Keep at least a week’s supply of each item in case you cannot leave your home during or after a winter weather event. If you need to refill your pet’s medication or food prescriptions, contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers or visit our online pharmacy.

#2: Ensure your pet’s preventive care is up-to-date

Freezing temperatures can aggravate certain pre-existing medical conditions, such as arthritis, while other health problems can make pets more cold-sensitive. Your pet should be examined by their veterinarian, who can diagnose and manage their health conditions, including those that can affect their health and safety during the winter:

  • Arthritis
  • Orthopedic disease 
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hormone disorders (e.g., Cushing’s or thyroid disease)

If your pet is suffering from one of these conditions, limit their exposure to cold weather and help them stay warm with a well-fitted jacket or sweater. 

#3: Keep your dog on a leash

Leashing your dog is the simplest way to prevent numerous cold weather-related disasters, including:

  • Escape — Runaway pets may suffer from life-threatening hypothermia, become disoriented in the snow, or be hit by a car. 
  • Slip and fall injuries — Leashes can help you control your dog’s path, behavior, and speed, which protects you both from slippery ice. 
  • Frozen ponds and lakes — Curious dogs often venture onto frozen surfaces, only to fall through into the icy waters below.
  • Antifreeze poisoning — Pets are attracted to this sweet tasting toxin, which can be found on driveways or roads.
  • Paw irritation — Traditional salt and ice melt products can irritate your dog’s paws, but leashing your dog lets you navigate them away from heavily treated areas. Always wash and dry your pet’s paws to remove unseen irritants, chemicals, or toxins before returning indoors. 

#4: Ensure your pet’s sleeping spot is cozy and dry

During winter weather, your pet’s favorite lounge area may feel a little frosty. Check your pet’s favorite places for drafts, dampness, and cold surfaces, and relocate their bed to a warm, draft-free area, if necessary. Also, inspect your pet’s bedding to ensure they have even warmth and support. If you can feel the floor when you press your hand on the bed’s foam pad or polyester filling, it’s time to replace the bed.

#5: Provide adequate shelter for outdoor pets

Although we strongly urge all pet owners to bring their pets inside, we recognize that doing so is not always practical or safe. In these instances, provide a sturdy and well-insulated outdoor shelter, such as a pet igloo or these cat shelters. Ensure the doorway is protected from wind and precipitation and line the inside with straw—not hay—to keep pets warm and dry. Outdoor pets burn a lot of energy trying to stay warm, so provide extra food, and check frequently that water sources are not frozen.

If your vehicle is parked outside, knock on the hood or honk the horn before starting the engine. This simple step can save lives, as cats and other wildlife may have climbed inside to stay warm.

#6: Protect your pet from antifreeze poisoning

Ethylene glycol—the active, sweet-tasting ingredient in antifreeze—is extremely toxic to dogs and cats, and can cause acute kidney failure, which is typically fatal without rapid, intense veterinary treatment. Pet owners should ensure all ethylene glycol-containing products, including windshield deicer, hydraulic brake fluid, and motor oil, are stored in their original containers, out of pet’s reach. All spills and leaks should be immediately cleaned to prevent pets from lapping at puddles, and pets should be supervised on walks to prevent accidental ingestion.

Ethylene glycol toxicity is rapidly fatal. If you know or suspect your pet has been exposed to ethylene glycol, immediately seek veterinary attention.

#7: Provide fun indoor pet exercise

Indoor activities can effectively exercise your pet and minimize cabin fever. However, instead of tiring only the body, inside activities focus on engaging the mind. 

  • Nose work — Sniffing is a naturally rewarding and tiring activity for dogs. Simple nose work games can be found here.  
  • Hide and seek games — Have a helper hold your pet while you hide. Call your pet and encourage them to find you by tracking your voice and scent. Reward your pet with praise, play, or a treat when they find you.
  • Trick training — Tricks are a great way to bond with your pet, build their confidence, and stretch their mind.
  • Canine fitness — Low impact fitness exercises can build your pet’s balance and body awareness.
  • Brain games — Puzzle toys and treat-dispensing balls promote physical and mental dexterity as pets work to free the treats or kibble hidden in the toy. 

With these tips, you and your pet will be prepared for whatever winter has in store. For additional cold weather advice, or to schedule your pet’s wellness appointment, contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers.