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Veterinary Medicine

Keeping pets safe during the holidays and winter

December 11, 2009

Many people remember to winterize their homes and cars for Colorado's colder weather, and it's also important to remember to pay special attention to keeping pets safe and warm. This time of year can be also be life-threatening for pets, with extra health hazards.

Frigid temperatures

 During cold weather, pets need extra shelter and outdoor pets may need to be brought inside. When temperatures dip below 32 degrees, it’s a dangerous time for pets – but even warmer temperatures can be dangerous for your pet if it is wet.

Outdoor pets need appropriate shelter to protect them from frigid temperatures. Make sure they have access to shelter such as a building or garage that is stocked with food and water.

If necessary, provide them with a heated water dish to prevent the water from freezing. It is also important to be on the lookout for pets seeking warmth in dangerous places such as under warm vehicles.

Dietary adjustments during winter

Consult with your veterinarian about any dietary adjustments for optimal health during the winter. Active pets may need extra calories.

When walking a dog in cold weather, remember that their feet are unprotected from cold, so keep walks short – or suspend them during especially frigid weather – and examine their paws before and after each time you exercise to ensure that they aren’t injured. When letting pets outside, do so only briefly during extreme cold.

Hypothermia and frostbite

Pets can experience hypothermia and frostbite. Signs that your pet is in trouble and needs immediate veterinary attention include:

  • shivering
  • acting disoriented and lethargic
  • hair puffed out and standing on end

Signs of frostbite include changes in skin color, such as bright red, pale or black. Skin at the tips of ears, on extremities and the scrotum are particularly at risk.

Extra health hazards


Antifreeze is tasty but fatal to pets unless emergency care is started within a few hours. Even small amounts of the substance licked off a cat or dog's paws or lapped off the sidewalk could be life-threatening. Store antifreeze in an area away from pets, and immediately clean up any spills or leaks.

If you suspect a pet has ingested antifreeze, seek emergency veterinary care. Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include:

  • drunken-like behavior
  • vomiting
  • excessive urination and drinking
  • acting depressed
  • moving unstably

Pets may appear to recover within a few hours, but antifreeze continues to poison their system and is often fatal.

Holiday decorations

Holiday decorations also are interesting distractions, but cats or dogs that ingest decorations and tinsel could end up with a completely obstructed intestinal tract, which can be fatal. Secure ornaments tightly to Christmas trees to prevent pets from playing with them and breaking them, leading to cuts.

Christmas trees in homes with particularly mischievous pets may need to be secured to hooks on a nearby wall with guide wires to prevent the pets from knocking the tree over.

Holiday parties also present a hazard. Pets should be kept in a safe place during celebrations, away from children who may play with them too roughly and an opportunity to sneak potentially hazardous food discarded by guests.

These helpful tips to pet owners are offered by veterinarians at Colorado State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital.