Pets, Places, & Things, Points on Pets

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Ahh, that part of winter where the holidays are over but the cold lives on. Trying to throw the tennis ball and watching it sink in to the snow, not to be found again till April. Taking walks and coming back with icicles and snowballs hanging from fur. Burning paws on salt and de-icer…

We’ve had some super-chilly weather lately and that doesn’t look like it’s gonna change until springtime (thanks, Polar Vortex), so here are some vital tips to keeping your pets as safe and comfortable as possible in the icy temps:

  1. Paws and pads are at risk of several injuries due to icy pavements, de-icers, salt, and the like. They can crack, get burned, develop frostbite, or just plain hurt. Consider putting a balm (like Bag Balm or even Vaseline) or some booties on his paws before you go out. These form barriers between paw pads and substances on the sidewalk (like salt, chemicals, and ice).
  2. Before you put balm on, make sure that paw fur – especially that between pads and toes – is trimmed short; this will keep balls of ice and snow from building up.
  3. Keep nails trimmed. This is something you should be doing year-round, as nails that are allowed to grow too long can crack and become infected, or even cause a dog to change his gait, leading to injuries or arthritis (imagine having to walk on your toenails, and how it would feel as they pressed up into the skin when you put all your weight on them!). Keeping nails short provides traction and keeps ice from building up between splayed paws.
  4. Don’t use toxic de-icers or salts on your steps and sidewalk (and encourage neighbors not to either). There are several pet-friendly options out there, like Safe Paw which you can get at pet supply stores.
  5. If it’s really cold out there, you might consider cutting your walk short (and instead taking more frequent but shorter walks throughout the day). Dogs can get frostbite and hypothermia, just like humans.
  6. Right when you get home, wash your dog’s paws with warm water so they don’t ingest any salt or de-icing chemicals that may be on their paws. (And don’t let him eat ice or slush or drink from puddles while you’re out either, as these may contain the same chemicals.) If your kitty has been outside, wipe him down as well, so that he doesn’t get the chemicals on his tongue when he gives himself a bath.
  7. Dogs and cats with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances may have a tougher time regulating their own body temperature, and so may be more liable to experience problems from extreme temps.
  8. If it’s below freezing outside, bring your pets inside. Just because they have fur doesn’t mean they’re immune to frostbite and hypothermia. Have a place for your normally-outdoor pets to come in from the cold.
  9. And if you’re running errands, it’s okay to bring your pup with you, but remember that, just as your car gets hot quickly in the summer, it can become too cold for your pup in a short period of time.
  10. Indoors, make sure to use proper precautions with space heaters (so they don’t get knocked over) and fireplaces. Make sure your pet’s cage or crate is away from cold
  11. Take this advice from the American Veterinary Medical Association: “We don’t recommend keeping any pet outside for long periods of time, but if you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds. Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.”
  12. Check for kitties and other small animals under the hood of your car before you turn it on – cars tend to be a refuge spot in cold weather! So honk your horn or bang on the hood a few times before starting up.
  13. Humans aren’t the only ones to pack on a few pounds in cold months, but a little extra weight is not gonna help your pet stay warmer, or at least not enough to be worth the other health risks from being overweight. So if your pet isn’t getting as much outdoor exercise as she usually does, make sure to cut back on treats and perhaps switch to a lighter food until spring comes.
  14. Finally, make sure you have a plan in place for severe weather and loss of power – not only for the humans in your life, but for pets as well, as many emergency shelters don’t allow pets.

So stay warm, stay safe, and remember: Spring will get here someday!

Written by: Ashley Denham Busse
Ashley Denham Busse has worked part-time for since 2006. is a professional pet-sitting company located in Old Town Alexandria, celebrating more than 13 years of providing daily walks and customized in-home pet care. Visit or email 

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