Keeping Pets Safe As Cold Weather Approaches

Although we are in the middle of the first month of autumn, the cooler season is already approaching us.

After speaking with the Great Falls Animal Shelter, we were able to check with them some tips that pet owners should keep in mind as we are only a few months into the winter season.

GF Animal Shelter Volunteer Coordinator Laramie Smovir said, “There are a lot of things you want to keep in mind when thinking about your animals during the winter. First and most important are their paws. They have soft skin. You want to make sure that as they come in and out of the house, those paws are cleaned. You want to make sure they are cleaned and dried, and then, if possible, take some petroleum jelly, Vaseline and massage those paws a bit to make sure they stay moist. It’s like a human lip in that they get chapped and you want to make sure that they do not split or crack, especially with the salt that settles during the winter.”

Smovir also noted the importance of having a humidifier at home.

“You’ll see that your dog during the winter probably has a bit of itching,” Smovir said. “It’s because of the difference in humidity between outside and inside. By providing a little extra humidity in the house, you’ll reduce the itchiness of their skin, which will be very helpful for them who live in Great Falls.

One thing that is stressed not only by those who specialize in animal care, but also by first responders, is to ensure that they are not kept outdoors for long periods of time. This includes not keeping them outside for more than 15 minutes when it gets below 30 degrees.

Every year animal control, shelters and first responders deal with stray animals. Worse still, they come across cases where dogs get stuck in icy lakes, which can lead to them drowning.

Smovir said, “With the mighty Missouri River, while beautiful, you want to make sure your dogs are on a leash whenever they’re around this water. It’s fast moving and its ice is thin. Every year we see animals crossing the ice at some point.

The Great Falls Animal Shelter says that during the coldest part of the season they tend to see animals suffering from hypothermia or frostbite.

If you must leave your pet outside, make sure their shelter is insulated and has something like straw to burrow into.

The American Veterinary Medical Association website has more information on pet winter safety, including this excerpt (

  • Offer choices: Just like you, pets prefer comfortable sleeping places and can change location depending on their need for more or less warmth. Provide them with safe options to allow them to vary their sleeping location to suit their needs.
  • Stay inside. Cats and dogs should be kept indoors in cold weather. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant to the cold than humans because of their fur, but that’s not true. Like humans, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept indoors. Longer, thick-haired dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more cold tolerant; but no pet should be left outside for long periods in freezing weather.
  • Make noise: A hot vehicle engine can be an attractive heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it is deadly. Check under your car, bang on the hood and honk your horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to ditch their perch under the hood.
  • Check the legs: Check your dog’s paws frequently for any signs of cold weather injury or damage, such as cracked pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden limp may be due to injury or ice buildup between his toes.
  • Play dress up: If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold, consider a dog sweater or coat. Have several on hand so you can use a dry sweater or coat whenever your dog goes out. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog’s paws. if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.
  • Wipe: During walks, your dog’s feet, legs, and belly can pick up de-icers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you come indoors, wipe down (or wash) your pet’s feet, paws, and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk of poisoning your dog after he licks them off his feet or its fur. Consider using pet-safe de-icers on your property to protect your pets and others in your neighborhood.
  • Provide shelter: We don’t recommend keeping a pet outdoors for long periods of time, but if you can’t keep your dog indoors in cold weather, provide warm, sturdy shelter from the wind. Make sure they have unlimited access to fresh, unfrozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off the ground (to minimize heat loss to the ground) and bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment.