Winter Pet Emergencies


Dr. Monica Sterk

Sep 11, 2023

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When the weather changes, an influx of emergency cases arrive in our ER, some of them preventable. And even though every case is unique (like snowflakes!), there are some common cold-weather emergencies for pets that for sure will be coming in—with an understandably anxious owner by their side. We tell you about these pet hazards during winter to help keep them safe. Sure, we’re in the ER business, but we care too much about pets to keep all this knowledge to ourselves.

Just like human babies, your fur babies don’t come with an instruction manual (wouldn’t that be awesome?). So, for this season, we’re guessing you want to know things like how to keep your dog safe in the winter, how to keep your cat from getting too cold outside, or when you should bring your non-weatherproof rabbit hutch inside. We have lots of advice, so let’s start by talking about the weather!


Every species has its own range of sensitivity when it comes to temperature. What’s optimal for one, can be dangerous for another. Here are a few common examples:

  • Dogs: There are variables, such as age, health conditions, and breed size, but as a general rule, 32ºF and under can pose danger. A quick jaunt outside to pee or poop is enough, then bring them back to your cozy home.
  • Indoor/Outdoor Cats: 45ºF and under can be a health risk. For outdoor cats, give them access to a warm shelter like a heated barn or a shed with a blanketed area.
  • Rabbits: A small range of 50ºF-70ºF is ideal for bunnies, and if they’re not in an insulated environment, anything under 40ºF can be a danger.

While wintertime can be fun with pets, there are common pet dangers that can cause illness, breaks or fractures, and fatalities. The good news is, you can take preventative measures.


Why antifreeze has a pleasant taste and smell is beyond us, but it’s toxic and no one needs to find that out the hard way. Unfortunately, pets are drawn to its syrup-like aroma and may drink it if left out in an easily accessible area. Antifreeze has a sweet taste that unfortunately, pets might like and lap up as easily as water, which is why you need to always keep it properly capped and in a safe space—away from curious pets. If a dog, cat, or any pet does ingest antifreeze—even a small amount—it can lead to severe kidney damage that is difficult to treat and is often fatal. So if you suspect your pet has taken a sip, take them immediately to the ER at Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG) or your nearest emergency veterinary care facility.


It’s a picturesque moment in time. You and your dog, frolicking in the snow. Oh, what fun! Fast forward to whimpering and whining due to irritated paws (your dog’s, not yours). It’s all because of ice-melting salts, commonly called rock salt. There are many well-meaning products out there that help clear sidewalks so you and your BFF can go for a walk. But often this salt gets stuck in between a dog’s paw pads and with prolonged exposure, those little puffy pads get irritated. So, how do you keep the winter-wonderland magic going? You could protect their paws by investing in dog boots that fasten to their ankles. Or you can simply wipe off your dog’s paws after walks. Take a good look at them to see if anything is caught. Check under the claws (nails), the digital pads (the four “toe beans” connected to the claws), the metacarpal pad (you know, the larger pad that humans love to gently press on because it’s such a wonder!). And even the smaller dew claws and carpal pads can harbor a small, grainy fugitive. Be diligent every time. That’s all you have to do. Now, go out there and enjoy the snow!


We get it, you want to take your dog out for some fresh, crisp air. With that invigorating temperature comes a potential danger—ice. What?! Yes, ice. So innocent in a drink but such a nuisance on your walking path. As humans, we’ve mastered how to navigate ice. We simply downshift our walking speed into a slo-mo, hands-out dance across those icy patches. But guess who doesn’t know how careful they have to be? Yup, your best friend on four legs. They usually dart across patches of ice, only to realize half-way through that their legs are going in a different direction than the rest of their body. Rut-ro! And just like with humans, pets slipping on icy terrain can lead to fractures, sprains, and other injuries that need immediate medical attention. You can buy a nice pair of dog boots with grips on the soles to help keep your pup stable on ice. Or you can wait it out. Avoid longer times outside with your dog until the temperature rises and thaws that frozen tundra outside your door.


Hypothermia & Frostbite. Not the latest potato chip flavors or a hot rap duo, but two wintertime dangers to your pet that you should know about. Keeping pets out in freezing temperatures for long periods of time can cause dangerously low body temperatures. When that happens, your pet’s blood will flow to the vital organs and away from extremities. That leaves the ear tips, paws, and other extremities vulnerable to frostbite, where skin and tissue damage may be irreversible. Some signs of frostbite include:

  • Skin discoloration, such as pale, blue, or gray; skin will look red and puffy with more advanced frostbite
  • Extremities like ears, nose, and tail, turn red or gray, or have formed ice crystals
  • Skin looks wrinkled or shriveled
  • Skin is cold and tougher than normal
  • Noticeable pain when touched

Freezing weather can also cause hypothermia, which is a dangerous drop in your pet’s body temperature. How do you know if your pet has hypothermia? Here are some signs to look for:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Shivering


These are only some of the dangers and symptoms to look out for. Avoid keeping your pet outdoors for too long. It’s wise to keep your pets inside during extreme cold weather and save yourself a trip to the ER. Contact VEG if your pet needs emergency or urgent care. We have locations all over the country with emergency vets who are available 24/7 to help you and your pet. When you come to VEG, our emergency-trained team will triage your pet within seconds.