Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 6.47.03 PMBy Jon Nowinski

Director of EARS

Visits to snow-filled parks, hikes in the winter woods, and outside playtime are all fun ways to enjoy this weather with your pets, but this time of year also brings an increase in dangers that all pet owners need to be aware of. As winter really announces its arrival with Saturday’s snowstorm, you may have already prepared your house, and you may have gotten your car ready, but have you winterized your pets?

You may think it’s silly to see a dog dressed in a sweater, coat, or even with a scarf and boots on, but it’s just as important to bundle them up from the cold as it is for you. Even on the coldest of winter days, most dogs still want to spend time outside, and you should closely monitor them when they do. Before taking your dogs out or letting them run around in the yard, check the weather forecast and temperature, and remember that pets outside are susceptible to the very same dangers as people such as frostbite, hypothermia, and illnesses. Also like people, younger and older dogs should not spend as much time outdoors, as well as dogs with health issues.

Winter illnesses are no fun for people, and can quickly lead to respiratory infections or worse if untreated, and the same is true for pets. The signs of illness in pets are similar to that in people as well, including coughing and sneezing, runny nose, congestion, shaking/chills, etc. When your pets come in from outside be sure to take a moment to check their ears, paws, and tail, and clean off any ice or snow that may be sticking to them. Make sure during the winter to provide extra blankets and warm spaces for your pet. If you notice them shivering or think they are cold when they come in from outside, one solution is to put a towel into the dryer for a few minutes, and then give it to your pet so they can get warm. Do not use hot water to wipe them down, as going too fast from cold to hot can put them in to shock.

The greatest threats to your pet during winter are chemicals and ice treatments, and every year these cause more injuries and deaths in pets than any other factor. One of the most common emergency pet calls is for animals that have ingested antifreeze that had been left around the house. Antifreeze is extremely toxic to pets, and even just a few licks can cause fatal results. Always make sure you clean up containers immediately, and also make sure you clean up any spills of antifreeze chemicals. Another danger is ice-melt products, many of which are toxic to animals, and when licked by a pet can cause serious internal damage. When we come in from spending time outside we wipe our feet, and the easiest solution to keeping your pet safe is to stop and do the same for them.

Finally, if you do let your dogs off-leash in your backyard or when bringing them to their favorite park, there are some dangers to be aware of there too. Icy spots pose the same risk to animals as to people, as not only do they not notice them, but often dogs are running much faster than we are and are prone to slipping even more. If you have an invisible dog fence on your property, make sure you ask the company if it will be affected by snowfall, as well as what happens if your power goes out. During last year’s February blizzard many owners found out that their invisible fences failed with the snow as their dogs ran through the boundary. Another danger is unstable trees and branches that fall because of heavy snow and ice. Often these branches are brittle, sharp, and can be extremely dangerous to pets. It’s best to keep your dogs away from them. And perhaps the scariest dangers to your dogs in parks are frozen ponds, rivers, and lakes. Dogs don’t know where the solid ground ends and the frozen water begins, and when there’s snow covering the ground it all looks the same. It only takes a moment for them to fall through the ice!

If you think that your pet may have been injured or is exhibiting health issues from winter weather you should always contact your veterinarian immediately. It’s also important to have the contact information for the nearest emergency vet clinic. The closest to Orange are the VCA Shoreline Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center located at 895 Bridgeport Ave in Shelton (203-513-4714) and the Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine located at 4 Devine Street in North Haven (203- 867-5195). If you have any questions about winter weather pet tips or emergency issues please don’t hesitate to contact us at and visit our website for more tips at


The Emergency Animal Response Service (EARS) is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to rapid-response to animal emergencies as well as community outreach and education of important pet preparedness issues. The team operates throughout Connecticut, but is centered in the Orange/Woodbridge area.