Winter is here! When temperatures drop into the teens and single digits, you’re not the only one shivering; your pet White Dog in Snowalso needs protection from the cold. Follow these tips to keep your pet safe and snug despite winter’s icy chill.

Bring them inside. For their safety and well-being, the Humane Society of the United States recommends that all companion animals be kept as indoor pets. Despite their fur coats, most pets are just as sensitive to the cold as we are. Pets left outside during cold weather face the threat of frostbite and even freezing to death. If it is unavoidable to leave your pet outside for extended periods, be sure they have warm shelter that is:

  • Just the right size for them to lie and sit in, while also holding in their body heat.
  • Raised inches off the ground, with its floor covered in straw or cedar chips to capture your pet’s body heat.
  • Turned away from the wind, with a covered doorway.

Don’t forget pets’ special needs. Winter can be an especially difficult time for older, arthritic pets, or those that thrive in hot climates, such as small, short-haired dogs. If you turn your thermostat down to save money, make sure your pets have a warm place to go inside, such as a well-cushioned bed next to a heating vent, or the spot next to you on the couch. And while it may not be dignified, a doggie coat can make heading outside for bathroom breaks less unpleasant for your pooch.

Honk your horn. When your car is fresh off the road, its warm engine beckons to outdoor cats and wildlife seeking a source of heat. Prevent traumatic injuries or even death for animals that might be hidden in your engine by pounding on the hood and honking your horn before starting the car. (And if neighbors give you puzzled looks, it’s the perfect opportunity to tell them why you’re doing this.)

Beware cold-weather toxins. Salt is great for melting snow, but not so great for your pet’s paws. Wipe their paws off frequently to keep salt from irritating their skin and your pet from accidentally ingesting it. Another cold-weather product to keep away from pets is sweet-tasting, deadly antifreeze. Store it out of reach and wipe up all antifreeze spills immediately, or switch to antifreeze that uses propylene glycol instead.

Banish cabin fever. With icy winds and shortened days, it might be tempting to skip your pet’s accustomed walk or outdoor play session. If the temperature is not too low, however, a shortened walk may help keep them out of boredom-induced mischief later. (Be sure to break out the doggie coat again!) Your pet may also enjoy taking an indoor agility class, or going to doggie day camp. And depending on the size of both your pet and your house, you may find that an indoor play session can serve as a substitute for outdoor fun.

Offer shelter. Winter is a harsh time for feral cats. Without shelter, they are at real risk of frostbite and other cold-related illnesses or death. If you have feral kitties in your neighborhood, you can offer them food and water, and follow these instructions to build them a shelter. If you want to do more for feral cats in your neighborhood, reach out to your local feral cat organization. Your veterinarian may be able to point you to local resources, or you can start with this list provided by the Humane Society of the United States.

Although winter’s cold may be unpleasant at times, it doesn’t have to pose a threat to your animal companions. Whether they’re playing in the snow or curling up by the fireplace, your pets depend on you to keep them comfortable and safe throughout the season. –Meredith Southard

An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.