12 Common Winter Dangers for Dogs & How to Prevent Them

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Some people have this misconception that dogs can tolerate the winter weather better than humans because they have a coat of fur. This isn’t true at all. On the contrary, dogs are more affected by the cold because they’re smaller in size and have a higher body temperature than us.

Because of this, it’s crucial that you provide special care to your four-legged companion during the cold winter months to keep him safe and healthy. Here are 12 common winter dangers for dogs you should be aware of, and what you can do to protect your pooch from them:

1. Hypothermia

One of the most common winter dangers for dogs during winter is hypothermia. It’s a medical condition that occurs when there’s a severe drop in a dog’s normal body temperature.

It occurs mainly due to prolonged exposure to freezing cold temperatures but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to anesthesia, hormonal imbalance, and diseases affecting the hypothalamus like hypothyroidism.

The normal body temperature range for dogs is 101-102.5°F. If your pet isn’t able to maintain his body temperature within this range, hypothermia is likely to develop.


Your dog will shiver and become very cold around the ears, tail, and paws in mild cases. As time goes by, you’ll notice other symptoms, including:

  • Lethargy
  • Frostbite around the ears, tail, and paws
  • Paleness of the skin
  • Stiff muscles
  • Fixed and dilated pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Low heart rate

If nothing is done to save his life, he’ll eventually slip into a coma and die.

Risk factors

It’s important to point out that all dogs can develop hypothermia when they’re exposed to cold temperatures for extended periods. However, some dogs are more vulnerable to this condition. They include:

  • Dogs that have been locked in a car for a long time during winter.
  • Dogs with underlying health issues like kidney disease, heart disease, canine diabetes, and Cushing’s disease.
  • Dogs with light-colored coats.
  • Newborn puppies
  • Senior dogs
  • Small-breed dogs
  • Short-haired dogs

Immediate care

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should move in quickly to bring your pet’s body temperature back to normal. You can do so by drying his wet coat with towels and wrapping him in warm blankets.

Also, consider putting hot water bottles wrapped in a towel on his abdomen to give him more warmth. Be sure to take his body temperature after every 10 minutes to know if your efforts are working.

Once the temperature reaches 100°F, gradually remove the water bottles and blankets to avoid overheating. Please make arrangements to take him for a proper medical checkup the same day once he recovers fully.

Prevention tips

Some of the things you can do to prevent hypothermia from happening include:

  • Keeping your dog warm during cold winter months using blankets and winter clothing like coats, sweaters, jackets, and booties.
  • Limiting the amount of time your dog plays outdoors in the cold.
  • Ensuring that he has a warm, cozy bed to sleep at night.
  • Not shaving your dog’s coat to the skin during winter. A longer coat will provide him with the much-needed warmth.
  • Going for walks when the temperatures are a bit warmer outdoors, i.e. in the early afternoon or late morning.
Dog covered in a blanket

2. Frostbite

Other than hypothermia, frostbite is also very common in dogs during winter. In freezing temperatures, your dog’s nose, tail, paws, and ears can get extremely cold to the point that ice crystals start forming in them, causing tissue damage.

This tissue damage caused by exposure to extreme cold temperatures is referred to as frostbite. It varies from mild to severe depending on how long a dog has been outdoors, his age, size, and fur thickness.

Symptoms of frostbite in dogs

The most common symptoms of frostbite in dogs include:

  • Extreme shivering
  • Pale or grey, hard skin around the nose, tail, paws, and ears
  • Skin blistering
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Clumsiness
  • Weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

Immediate care

If your pup exhibits these symptoms, your first step should be immediately getting him to a warm environment. Then, apply lukewarm warm water to all the areas affected by frostbite to help melt the ice crystals in the areas and restore blood flow.

Once all the ice has melted away, wrap him in warm blankets and take him to the vet’s clinic right away so his body temperature can be raised safely. If there are other issues resulting from the frostbite, the vet can diagnose and treat them as well.

Prevention tips

Frostbite prevention tips are similar to those of hypothermia, so be sure to follow them. In addition, pay attention to the weather forecast when going for walks with your dog. If it’s icy and cold out there, it’s better to stay indoors and play different indoor games with your dog.

3. Antifreeze poisoning

Antifreeze poisoning is another winter danger worth paying attention to. Many people use this chemical to get their cars ready for winter, not knowing that it’s highly toxic to their dogs.

Antifreeze contains the additive ethylene glycol, which can cause irreversible kidney failure when ingested by dogs. But it also has a delightful taste that dogs can’t resist, so they like licking it up when available.

Your pet can lick antifreeze off your garage floor, driveway, sidewalks, or even streets if you have spills, open containers, or leaking car radiators in these areas. If you usually winterize your pipes with antifreeze, your dog can also lick antifreeze from your toilet bowl.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning in dogs

In the early stages of antifreeze poisoning, your pet may exhibit drunken behavior like shaky walking. As time goes by, you’ll notice other symptoms, including:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Panting
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Coma
  • Death

If you suspect that your canine companion has consumed antifreeze, get him to the nearest vet clinic immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment. The more you delay taking him for treatment, the higher his risk of developing severe medical complications or dying.

Prevention tips

Here are a few tips to protect your dog from antifreeze poisoning:

  • Keep antifreeze out of your dog’s reach by either storing it on high shelves or in a closed cabinet.
  • Considering how toxic this chemical is, it’s best not to allow your dog in the room where it’s stored.
  • If there’s any spill from your car radiator or antifreeze container, be sure to wipe it off thoroughly and immediately.
  • Ensure your dog wears booties when walking outside to protect his paws from the cold and prevent him from stepping on antifreeze spills.
  • Wash his paws with soap and water after every walk. You can also use paw wipes to wipe off any antifreeze residues from his paws.

4. Cracked and irritated paws

Ice crystals get stuck in dog hair and paws

Dogs are also exposed to dry air, snow, ice, and chilly rain while walking outdoors during winter. All these extreme weather elements can leave your dog’s paw pads irritated, cracked, and bleeding.

Prevention tips

To protect your pet’s paws:

  • Massage Musher’s Secret if you can, or alternatively petroleum jelly into his paw pads before going for winter walks. This helps protect them from ice, rock salt, and other harmful substances on the streets.
  • Ensure your dog has well-fitting and comfortable booties to protect him from the cold and prevent sand and salt from lodging between his toes and causing irritation.
  • After every walk, it’s also essential to remove any snowballs that may be lodged between his paws. Wipe or wash the paws with soap and water, and then apply petroleum jelly to soothe them.

If hairs are growing on the paw pads, make sure you trim them regularly to avoid ice buildup.

5. Dry, itchy, and flaky skin

The dry and cold winter weather can also cause dogs’ skin to get drier, flakier, itchier, and more sensitive. To prevent this from happening to your pup:

  • Apply Musher’s Secret if you can, alternatives would be petroleum jelly, coconut oil, or any other moisturizer of your choice regularly to his skin, paying close attention to his ears, nose, tail, and paws.
  • Towel-dry your dog immediately you return from winter walks.
  • Use a humidifier to provide the right moisture levels in your home during the cold winter months.
  • Since bathing removes essential natural oils from your pet’s skin and coat, consider reducing the frequency of baths during winter and using a moisturizing dog shampoo when bathing him. Feel free to ask for recommendations from your vet if you have no idea which shampoo to buy.

6. Rock salt

Rock salt (sodium chloride) is a common product used for coating streets, driveways, and walkways during winter to break down the ice. Unfortunately, this de-icer contains chemicals that are highly toxic to dogs.

Walking on areas containing rock salt, for instance, can cause chemical burns on your dog’s paw pads, leaving him with a lot of pain and discomfort. There’s also a possibility of your dog ingesting unsafe quantities of rock salt, either by licking his paws or drinking water that has melted due to using the salt.

Both of these incidents can lead to serious dehydration or sodium poisoning, which is fatal. If this happens, bring him to the vet straight away for proper examination and treatment.

Prevention tips

Here are some measures you can implement to protect your pet from the harmful effects of rock salt:

  • Wash off or wipe your dog’s feet and fur after walking outdoors in the cold.
  • Ensure he wears protective booties to protect his paws when outdoors.
  • Switch to ice melts that are safe and friendly to pets like sand or wood ash if you can convince your neighbors to do the same, the better.

7. Snow-covered lakes and ponds

There are many incidents of dogs falling into frozen lakes or ponds during winter and drowning. This can happen when a dog is busy chasing a squirrel, taking a swim, or just trying to find out what’s beneath the ice.

Frozen lakes are one of the 12 common winter dangers for dogs

Other dogs have also ended up with torn ligaments, strained muscles, and head injuries after slipping and falling on thin ice. If your dog falls in icy water or slips on an icy surface, seek medical attention immediately.

Prevention tips

You can prevent such accidents from happening by:

  • Keeping your canine companion on a strong leash when he’s around frozen lakes and ponds during winter months.
  • Clearing all the ice from your dog’s path to reducing slipping incidences.

8. Dangers buried under the snow

There are all kinds of things buried under the snow during winter, which you and your dog can’t see. This includes:

  • Sharp gardening tools like rakes
  • Dog waste that may contain diseases and parasites
  • Rotten human foods that may be highly toxic to dogs
  • Sharp and pointed rocks that may cut your dog’s paws

Prevention tips

To protect your dog from these hidden dangers, it’s important to:

  • Clear your property of all sharp and harmful objects before the snow sets in.
  • Ensure that your dog is wearing protective booties before going for a walk outdoors to protect his paws.
  • Clean his paws immediately after walking outdoors.

9. Winter weight gain

Another winter danger that many dog owners tend to overlook is weight gain. Like humans, dogs tend to live a more sedentary lifestyle during winter due to wet weather, freezing temperatures, and fewer daylight hours. This reduction in physical activity can lead to a gradual increase in weight, which can put your pet at risk of developing lifestyle diseases.

To stop your pooch from putting on weight during the winter months:

  • Pay attention to his activity level and adjust his calorie intake accordingly. You may need to feed him reduced food portions to avoid winter weight gain. If this is the case, you must talk to your vet first. They will recommend the right type and amount of food to feed your dog.
  • While celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year holidays with your loved ones, avoid giving your canine companion table scraps, or letting him eat too many holidays treats that may lead to weight gain.
  • Engage your dog in different indoor exercises to meet his physical activity needs. This can be anything from playing the game of fetch indoors to racing up and down the stairs with him.

10. Dehydration

If you thought dehydration only happens to dogs during hot summer months, you thought wrong. Your dog can dehydrate just as quickly during winter. Drinking water left outside in the cold tends to freeze inside the water bowl, leaving your pet with no fresh water to drink. This is one of the reasons why many dogs resort to eating snow during winter, but snow isn’t a substitute for fresh drinking water.

It’s, therefore, vital that you keep your dog well hydrated at all times by providing him with plenty of fresh, unfrozen drinking water. Consider using heated water bowls to ensure that his drinking water doesn’t freeze while outside.

11. Poisoning from pesticides and rodenticides

Winter is also a time when rats, mice, and different insects try to get into our homes to escape the freezing temperatures outdoors and find food. Many homeowners use pesticides and rodenticides to get rid of these animals without thinking about the safety of their dogs.

To protect your pet from swallowing these chemicals and getting poisoned, use pet-friendly options to eliminate the insects and rodents in your home. Feel free to ask pest control experts in your area for recommendations.

12. Cars on icy roads

Roads accidents constitute a significant cause of injuries and deaths in dogs during winter. Slippery and icy roads can cause cars to lose control or make it more difficult for them to stop in time when there’s a dog crossing the streets.

Cars on Icy roads are one of the 12 common winter dangers for dogs

To prevent winter-related road accidents:

  • Don’t cross the road with your dog until you’re 100% sure that cars have completely stopped.
  • Make sure that the fence in your yard is secure enough to stop your dog from escaping and getting hit by cars.
  • Ensure your dog is wearing reflective gear while outdoors to make it easier for car owners to spot him from a distance.
  • Ensure he has an identification tag attached to his collar/harness at all times.

To conclude, there are many winter dangers for dogs to be aware of, such as hypothermia and rock salt poisoning. These dangers can leave your dog with serious injuries, life-threatening health complications, or even death. This is why you must know how to prevent them from happening in the first place to keep your beloved pet safe.