Written by Rose DiLeva VMD, MS, CVCP, CVA. Posted in Ask The Vet.

     I just purchased my first pet, a 10-week-old terrier mix. We are just introducing him to our Siamese cat. What can I do to keep them healthy in the winter weather?


     One of the greatest potential dangers to animals in the winter months is antifreeze (ethylene glycol). Antifreeze is extremely toxic to pets. It has a sweet taste that is often what attracts dogs and cats to taste it. Consequently, even the small amount that may spill on the garage floor can be fatal. Be sure to clean up even the smallest amount.

Less than a teaspoon can kill a cat! Antifreeze is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. The mortality rate is very high. Pets will appear as if they are intoxicated. Vomiting, stumbling and depression are common signs in the first twelve hours after ingestion. The toxic chemical has an affinity for the kidneys and quickly causes kidney failure. If you suspect that your pet may have ingested antifreeze, get them to your veterinarian immediately. This is a medical emergency. Minutes can make the difference between life and death.   

     There is a product on the market that is an alternative to the active ingredient in antifreeze, ethylene glycol. It utilizes propylene glycol in place of ethylene glycol. If you own a pet or care about those animals that wander outdoors, please consider purchasing the safer antifreeze. It costs a few dollars more but it could save the life of someone’s pet.

     Snow and ice can be hazardous to your pet if it gets stuck between their pads. Ice balls form and cause frostbite and trauma to the skin. Be safe by wiping off your pet’s pads when they come in from the outside. Even cats that go outdoors can have major difficulties. Keep a bath towel near the door as a reminder. Feet that stay wet also set up the kind of environment that bacteria and fungus thrive in.

     Routinely check your pet for evidence of frostbite. Frostbitten skin can appear gray or red in color. The most common places affected are the ears, feet and tail. If you suspect that your pet has frostbite, wrap them up in a blanket to start the warming process and get to the veterinarian promptly. DO NOT use a heating pad. Animals with frostbite must be warmed gradually.

     Another hazard to be aware of is the salt and chemical de-icers spread on the ground. Some of these materials can be caustic and irritate the pads and skin between the toes. There are environmentally safe products that can be used in place of these others. If you and your dog walk trails, it is not unreasonable to ask the township or whoever is in charge what kind of materials they use for snow and ice removal.

     Cold and damp weather can also aggravate degenerative conditions such as arthritis. Arthritis can be present at any stage of your pet’s life, but it is more common in the middle aged and geriatric years. A person with arthritis can feel stiff and painful in the joints in cold weather. The same holds true for our companion animals. Dogs and cats are not very obvious in their expression of pain and discomfort. If your elderly pet seems more lethargic, is reluctant to move, or walks a little stiff then he or she may be in discomfort. It is best to have your pet checked by your veterinarian to make a proper evaluation. There are a number of modalities, including acupuncture that can bring relief to an ailing companion animal.

     For those pets best suited to the outdoors other factors come into play. Obviously, adequate shelter from the rain, snow and wind is very important, as well as, insulation against cold weather. Even breeds like Huskies and Samoyeds should not be kept outdoors for long periods of time. They too can succumb to frostbite and hypothermia. Fresh water is necessary at all times. Avoid metal bowels if your pet is outside because they freeze quickly and their wet tongue can get stuck to the ice. Ceramic is a better choice. Heated dishes are available but not recommended for dogs that tend to bite or chew on wires.

     Finally, I believe it is a good idea to have extra supplies for your pet during the winter months just in case a snowstorm leaves you house bound. Take the time to purchase extra pet food, kitty litter and medications or supplements that your pet needs.


Dr. Rose DiLeva is a University of Pennsylvania graduate and practices conventional and alternative veterinary medicine. She is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and a certified veterinary chiropractitioner. She is owner and President of Animal Wellness Center in Chadds Ford, Pa. She can be reached at 610-558-1616 for appointments or telephone consultations. Her website is

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