15 Vet-Backed Tips for Keeping Your Cats and Dogs Safe in the Winter

These safety tips from veterinarians will guarantee an incident-free winter for your pet.

Cute dog wearing a scarf in the snow
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Unfortunately, the winter poses a whole slew of health and safety risks for cats and dogs. Between the toxic salt on the ground outside and the tempting tinsel and Christmas lights inside, the season is full of health hazards for pets everywhere you look! If you want to get through the chilliest months of the year without a trip to the vet, these expert tips for keeping your cat or dog safe in the winter are guaranteed to get you through the season incident-free.

1
Don't cut down on daily walks.

Frenchie dog in a vest going for a walk in the winter in the snow
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During the winter when the weather outside is frightful and your holiday to-do list is far less than delightful, it's easy to let daily walks and trips to the park with your dog fall by the wayside. However, "as you gear up for the holidays, it is important to try to keep your pet's eating and exercise habits as close to their normal routine as possible," says Darlene Hernandez Geekie, RVT, CEO of Veterinary Angels Medical Center. Making a little time for your pets in the winter goes a long way.

2
But be sure to protect their paws!

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Between the snow, ice, and salt on the ground, your dog needs to be careful whenever they go outside in the winter. Thankfully, Texas-based veterinarian and Dog Lab consultant Sara Ochoa, DVM, notes that "there are many things that you can put on your dog's feet to keep them protected. Boots are great for dogs who love to play in the snow."

3
Wipe down your pet every time they come inside.

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Whenever your dog plays outside in the winter, they risk rolling around in or stepping in that aforementioned salt. If they try to lick it off of their paws or fur, The Humane Society notes that they can end up with salt poisoning. By wiping down your dog thoroughly with a towel every time they come inside, you can avoid that kind of scary situation.

4
Keep the poinsettias far away from your pet.

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Poinsettias might be pretty and festive, but if you use them to decorate your house this season, make sure not to do so somewhere where your pets can reach them. "Poinsettias are toxic to animals," explains Ochoa. The ASPCA confirms they can cause vomiting and general irritation when ingested.

5
Hang mistletoes out of your pet's reach, too.

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Mistletoes also pose a serious risk to your pets. In fact, "in large amounts, consuming mistletoe can cause hypotension, ataxia, seizures, and even possible death," says Rachel Barrack, DVM, founder of Animal Acupuncture in New York City.

6
And hide those electrical cords.

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It's perfectly fine to hang up Christmas lights during the holiday season. However, if you have pets around, Barrack warns that you should keep electrical cords out of reach.

"If chewed, live electrical cords can cause oral burns, seizures, and even death," she explains. "Make sure to keep Christmas lightening inaccessible and unplugged when pets are unsupervised in the home."

7
Make sure your pet doesn't drink from the Christmas tree's water supply.

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There are certain rules that pet owners must abide by when it comes to their Christmas tree. The most important one? Keep your dog or cat away from the tree's water supply. "Stagnant water (with or without fertilizer) can cause vomiting and diarrhea," notes Barrack.

8
Stash the antifreeze out of reach.

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Antifreeze is useful when the cold weather threatens to destroy your car engine—but if you plan on using the product, make sure to keep your pet far away from it. "Many types of antifreeze contain toxic ethylene glycol while also tasting sweet to dogs," explains Jennifer Coates, DVM, a member of the advisory board for Pet Life Today. "This is a potentially deadly combination, because ethylene glycol ingestion can lead to severe kidney damage."

9
And only hang ornaments up high.

Cat in a Christmas Tree {Why Do Cats Hate Christmas Trees}
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When it comes time to decorate your Christmas tree, Barrack says that you should make sure that you aren't hanging ornaments anywhere where your cat or dog can swat them. "Glass ornaments can break, cutting pet's paws or face," she explains. "If ingested, they can also cause internal lacerations."

10
The same goes for tinsel.

Funny cat wrapped in tinsel
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"Tinsel looks like a fun, festive play toy to a cat. If ingested, it can result in a foreign body obstruction to the gastrointestinal tract requiring surgical intervention," Barrack warns.

11
Keep your pet in another room when you're cleaning.

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With all the mud that people tend to track in the house during the winter, it seems like you're always cleaning during the holidays. However, since chemicals like ammonia, bleach, and chlorine are dangerous to animals, make sure that your pet is in another room when you clean. "Even all-natural products can cause stomach irritations," Barrack warns.

12
Make sure you throw out candy wrappers.

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Most pet owners already know that chocolate is toxic to dogs and cats. However, what people don't realize is that the wrappers that those sweet candies come in are dangerous to pets, too. "Candy wrappers can cause intestinal obstructions that require surgery to fix," notes Barrack.

13
Be careful which holiday foods you feed your pet.

Naughty dog stealing a chicken or turkey leg
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It can be tempting to sneak your pet a small slice of ham on Christmas. However, you need to be careful about what you feed your dog—especially on the holidays. Raisins, bacon, milk, and onions are just some of the many foods that can "cause GI problems such as vomiting and diarrhea," as Ochoa notes.

14
If you have an outdoor pet, make sure they have some sort of shelter.

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"If your pets live outside, have a place for them to get out of the harsh weather and keep warm," suggests Ochoa. Even just a makeshift plastic-container-turned-cat-shelter should be enough to keep your outdoor felines safe and warm when the weather gets especially bad.

15
And if your dog is shivering, bring them inside.

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Most dogs—thick-coated ones especially—can handle chillier winter temperatures for a short period of time. However, sled dog veterinarian Susan Whiton explained in an interview that "if your dog is shivering … or [in] a curled position, it is probably too cold."

And don't assume that your dog's refusal to come inside means that they aren't freezing. Often times dogs that are too cold will curl up in a fetal position and stay still in order to retain whatever body heat they have left.

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