Pet Safety During a Chicago Winter

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In the Chicagoland area, temperatures have dipped into sub-zero zones too many times to count last winter. With this years cold temperatures and record snowfall before Thanksgiving represents more dangerous challenges for pet owners. Just because your animal has fur, does not mean they will be safe outside for prolonged periods of time. Unless, of course, you own a cold weather breed, such as a husky. Hopefully most pet owners will understand that they need to adjust their routine to keep their furry family members healthy.

Furry Friends Safety

When the temperature outside drops below 20º degrees, it is always good sense to keep all your animals indoors. The exceptions are for short walks or when they relieve themselves. If happen to own an “outdoor” dog, make sure to have a dry, draft-free doghouse that is big enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down, but small enough to hold in his body heat. You want them to be comfortable and stay warm. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. You may want to include a thick blanket. Additionally, the doorway should be covered with a heavy plastic or other waterproof material.

Pets need additional calories in winter months because an animal will burn more energy staying warm in cold weather, and higher food intake will help your pet maintain their body temperature. If you are not sure how much more food—consult with a vet. If you have a ‘working’ dog, the same principle applies and ask your vet to find out how much more food your pet will need during the winter based on their activities. 

It is always critical that they have fresh water at all times, as dehydration is common. Regularly check their water bowl to make sure it’s full in the home or clear of ice outside.


Your pet’s skin will be dryer during the winter months and can result in itchy dandruff. Some vets recommend adding a tablespoon of vegetable oil to your pet’s food. If your dog has short-hair, you should buy him a sweater for when he goes outside. Cold breed animals have an additional layer of hair they grow specifically to keep them warm during the winter months. Also, their paw pads can get frostbite, so be sure to use a towel to wipe off paws when they come back in the house.

After a a big snowfall, be sure to shovel a path in your yard so your dog doesn’t have to work hard to find a place to go potty. Especially if they are a short dog. In very cold weather, no long walks. Salt and chemicals used to de-ice roads will irritate an animals paws. If your pup's paws come in contact with these substances when out for a walk, rinse the feet off and dry thoroughly once you get back home.

Other Cold Weather Dangers

When it is cold, this can cause a flare up in your pet’s arthritis—same as yours. If your pet is having trouble getting up or laying down, climbing the stairs or has started to snap or cry when picked up, call your vet, who can offer several treatments for arthritis.

Substances like antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid that get spilled on your driveway may smell sweet to dogs and cats. As little as a teaspoon of some of these substances can actually kill your pets. Keep an eye on them when they are outside.

If you see any animal left out in the cold, speak to its owner or notify your local police or animal welfare agency. Sometimes we mean well, not understanding the animal could be a cold weather breed. Have a chat with your neighbor before notifying your local police or animal welfare agency. If the pet appears to be in distress, by all means, notify authorities immediately. Some owners may not know about the dangers of leaving a pet out in the cold for extended periods of time. We have to watch out for our furry friends!