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Keeping Your Pet Safe During Winter


26 November 2015



Article written in collaboration with John Agionicolaitis, Animal Health Student, Asista Foundation, and Dre. Dominique Plante, DMV, Veterinarian, General & Emergency Medicine, Asista Foundation

As the temperature slowly transitions into the chillier time of the year, people begin to prepare for winter. It’s essential to consider your pet’s health as winter can be harsh on your pet’s body and can pose some health issues. Read on for a quick list on winter health risks to watch out for, how they can affect your pet’s body, and what you can do to ensure your pet’s safety.

What are the top 5 winter hazards to watch out for?

The most common cases veterinarians see in clinics are the following:

  1. Poisoned snow intoxication
  2. Chemical burns
  3. Frostbites and cracked paw pads
  4. Hypothermia
  5. Accidents caused by a car or a snowplough

These can all be prevented with proper (and simple!) precautions.

Poisoned snow intoxication

This type of intoxication is rare although it is still seen in practice. Every winter, our pets have a tendency to experiment with white fluffy snow by tasting it, however that snow can sometimes be toxic depending on where your pet is.

Toxic snow is usually found in parking lots and on the roads. It can be coloured with different pigments of grey, blue and green. This type of snow usually contains harsh salts and antifreeze which leaks from motorized vehicles. One lick can potentially be dangerous towards your pet’s health and can cause:

  • Gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Hemorrhagic diarrhea
  • Severe neurological symptoms
  • Sudden death

A good prevention suggestion is limiting your pet’s access to areas with pigmented snow by supervising outdoor activities.

Chemical burns

Toxic chemicals on snow aren’t only poisonous when ingested, they can also lead to chemical burns on your pet’s skin and/or paws when in contact. Salt in particular can be damaging for your pet’s paw pads, which can lead to the leather cushioning on your pet’s paws to dry up and crack.

A general rule of thumb that can be applied when preventing mild chemical burns is washing your pet’s paws after they have been outside. If you notice lesions of mild burns, it is recommended you seek veterinary attention.

Frostbites and cracked paw pads

These are minor yet the most common winter issues seen with pets during winter.

Frostbites and cracked paw pads usually occur on dry, frosty winter days and will appear when your pet is outside for a long period of time. They are generally harmless during their early stages, however a frostbite can become serious if it is not addressed early on.

You can prevent these by ensuring your pet isn’t left outside for too long and by gearing up your furry friend with the proper attire, such as pet boots and/or a pet jacket.

Here’s a healing tip – if you notice that your pet’s paws begin to crack because of dryness, apply a thin layer of Vaseline® once a day until the cushioning is restored.


Hypothermia is when the body reaches an unusual low body temperature. Small pets and those with short hair are mostly affected due to their inability to keep heat. Pets that become wet outdoors due to rain or snow can also suffer from this condition if left outside too long, causing a fatal shock to the body.

You should consider options like pet boots, a padded coat and/or any other specific pet wear to keep your pet warm during winter.

Accidents caused by a car or a snowplough

Each year, veterinarians receive a handful of pets that have been hit by a car or a snowplough due to poor outdoor visibility. If your pet blends with the snow, make them visible with a colourful vest or a collar.

As good pet parents, we want nothing but the best for our furry friends. Taking the above precautions can be key in keeping your pet healthy and safe. Should you be worried of anything regarding your pet’s health, your veterinarian should be your first destination in answering any medical questions!