Keeping Pets Safe During Extreme Cold Weather

The Polar Vortex has descended upon the U.S. Midwest, already claiming (as of this writing) at least 7 lives. While Portland manages to stay on the outskirts of the vortex, we are not immune from the overall effects of winter. With occasional ice, snow, and freezing rain, it's important to know how to keep pets safe.

Understand that there are no hard and fast rules, but there *are* general guidelines. The variables are, of course, your pets! According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (, "just like people, pets' cold tolerance can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level, and health." That means that pets who are elderly, in ill health, have short legs, have short hair, or suffer from any sort of medical condition will be more susceptible to the effects of cold weather. And, in *extreme* cold weather conditions, such as below freezing temperatures and freezing rain, ALL animals need to be protected.

Cold Weather Safety Tips:

  1. Keep outside pets indoors. Cats that are accustomed to an outdoor lifestyle may make a fuss about being newly confined, but the outdoor hazards aren't worth jeopardizing their safety.

  2. Provide extra blankets in your pets' resting/sleeping areas, for extra warmth and comfort.

  3. For short-haired dogs, dogs with short legs, elderly pets, and puppies, provide them with sweaters or coats to help keep them warm.

  4. Dog booties are a thing! And they provide decent traction on ice and moderate protection from snow. Just make sure they fit your dogs correctly.

  5. Don't keep dogs outdoors longer than is absolutely necessary, to let them relieve themselves. Instead of long walks, provide them with frequent, short trips outside.

  6. Be mindful of chemical hazards. While, as a rule, Portland doesn't salt its roads, many people *do* salt their sidewalks and driveways. Additionally, watch for spilled antifreeze, which can be deadly to pets.

  7. Gently wash and towel dry your pets' feet (and bellies) when you return indoors. Check to make sure pads aren't dry, cracked, or bleeding. If they are, apply a pet-safe balm/salve, to help keep their pads moisturized.

  8. Finally, communicate with your dog walker! If you normally schedule longer walks for your dogs, ask her/him to let your dogs out for quick potty reliefs, instead. WindyWalksPDX does NOT charge cancellation fees for last-minute cancellations, during times of inclement weather (both extreme cold AND extreme heat).

Finally, learn how to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia in your pets. Signs include shivering and disorientation; more advanced cases include weakness and lethargy. If your pets show signs of hypothermia, immediately remove them from the cold environment. Wrap pets in warm blankets and, if available, apply warm packs to their armpits until their temperatures reach 100°F (an improvised "pack" can be made using a plastic bottle filled with very warm water). As your pet begins to recover, apply karo corn syrup on the gums, for quick sugar absorption, which may raise their blood sugar levels and counter the risk of shock. (“Hypothermia.” Pet Emergency Pocket Guide: a Practical Guide for Pet Owners, by Rhienna Guedry and Erin Robinson, 2nd ed., Informed Pub., 2011, p. 69.)


Most importantly, stay safe out there! Use common sense. If it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your pets! Keeping them warm, and knowing their limitations, will keep them happy and healthy through this and many winters to come.