Winter Weather Preparedness for Cats & Dogs (With a special feral cat reminder)

Many of us take for granted that our pets don’t require any special attention during the winter months, but that is far from the truth, especially if your pet happens to be a breed that is not particularly adept to cold temperatures, is in fair to poor health, very young or very old, or just has a reputation for having “high-risk behaviors”.  

The purpose of this article is to serve as an awareness tool that I hope will jump-start your “preparedness mind” to take steps to prevent and respond to the related health risks for this time of year.

Winter-Related Conditions

There are certain cold-related conditions that can lead to potential health risks or even death for our pets, and the pets in our community. Conditions like:   

  • Power Outages
  • Winter-Related Medical Injuries
  • Heater/Furnace Accidents


If you have to take your outside, be mindful of downed power lines, especially at night where dangerous electrical hazards may be more difficult to see. If there is a risk of exposed power lines outside, it’s a good idea not to let pets outdoors unsupervised at all.  

Winter-Related Medical Injuries

Let’s divide Winter-Related Medical Injuries into two categories: Seasonal Injuries and Cold-Related Injuries.

Seasonal Injuries

Anti-freeze. Often found in standing water on driveways & streets. The sweet and tasty toxin that can lead to a quick and agonizing death. Initial symptoms: drunken walk, drooling, vomiting, seizing, and excessive thirst and urination. The result is severe kidney failure.   

Salt/Ice Melt. Toxic material that pets end up licking off their paws. It can cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Some of these products can also cause chemical burns on the animals paw pads.

Ice/Drowning. Falling through ice can lead to drowning. Pets should be discouraged from walking on ice altogether. They are not capable of determining whether ice can bear their weight or not.

Winter Holiday Plants

  • Poinsettias, have toxic sap that can cause irritation to mouth and stomach as well as vomiting.
  • Mistletoe. Extremely toxic. Symptoms include drooling, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain. If ingested in large amounts, walking drunk, collapse, seizures and death. Warrants an immediate emergency veterinarian visit.
  • Holly Berries. Toxic berries & leaves. It can cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and depression.
  • Pine Tree Needles. Mouth irritation.
  • Lily. Extremely deadly to cats. Any pet that has ingested any part of this plant should be taken to the veterinarian immediately.  

Cold-Related Injuries

Hypothermia. Being exposed to cold temperatures that reduce core body temperature at 99°F (35°C) and below. Symptoms are pale gums, strong shivering, listlessness or lethargy.

Arthritic Pain. Animals with arthritis often experience more discomfort due to cold temperatures, decreased physical activity and changes in barometric pressure.

Heater/Furnace Accidents

Burns. When pets jump, dive, slide or bump into or near open flames (fireplaces/stoves) or exposed heating elements (heaters), they can get burned, or start house fires. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a threat.

I want to encourage you a responsible pet owner to be as proactive as humanly possible to prevent or be prepared to manage the threats that your pets may experience at this time of year.

Get basic life support and awareness training for your cats and dogs so that you will know what to do in case of emergencies. If you already have the training, its a good time to review what you have learned and “drill your skills”.

Feral Cats

For those angels of mercy who care for our feral cat communities, don’t forget their special needs during the winter months.


You must make certain that whatever shelter they use, is “insulated” to weather the extreme cold of the region. Non-moisture absorbent material like straw works very well. When the temperature drops, cats will go wherever they can get warmth, even if the area is unsafe. We have to continue to monitor their sheltering location to make sure that it remains safe, dry and warm.   

Food & Water

During cold temperatures, the nutritional needs of cats increase. Therefore, their demand for more food and water must be addressed, particularly to avoid dehydration. Providing wet food in insulated containers can help with hydration by making the food easier to digest.

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