Editorial: Protect your pets this winter


The ISD Editorial Board lists ways to protect your pets in the cold weather. 

Editorial Board

In Iowa, we are still in the midst of winter, meaning cold weather can hit any day. The freezing cold weather that exists in Iowa can be dangerous not only for the humans that live in the state, but also our animal companions. 

According to the Weather Atlas website, winter in Iowa is severely cold, with the day temperatures frequently plummeting below freezing. The website stated it is not uncommon to experience -20°F in January. Last week alone, the temperature often dipped below zero, with the windchill making it even colder.

These temperatures are uncomfortable for humans in short periods of time and deadly for long periods of exposure, varying depending on a person’s age and health. It is obvious that these temperatures and conditions also affect animals in similar ways, especially if the breed of animal is not suited for colder climates.

Cold weather affects pets the same way it does people, said Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, in an article by Texas A&M Today.

“The majority of cold weather related illnesses have to do with exposure to the cold itself,” Rutter said in the article. “In some climates, generalized hypothermia and frostbite of toes, ears, lips, the nose and the tail can certainly occur.”

Rutter also said hypothermia may cause pets to seem mentally dull or antisocial while frostbite shows up as swollen, red lesions. Frostbite does not occur at a specific temperature but rather results from a combination of cold weather, heat loss and decreased blood flow.

Allowing animals to go through that pain is clear abuse, and people who own animals should do everything in their power to protect them during these freezing temperatures.

Multiple pet-focused organizations like The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) have released lists and advice over the years to help educate people on protecting their animals during the winter months. Here are some of their recommendations.

General care

The ASPCA recommends pet owners never shave their dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. 

If your dog is long-haired, simply trim him to minimize the clinging ice balls. Salt crystals and de-icing chemicals can dry their skin, and don’t neglect the hair between their toes. 

If your dog is short-haired, consider getting them a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. 

The ASPCA also recommends pet owners bathe their pets as little as possible during cold spells. Their website states that washing too often can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin.


One of the most important things to do for an animal during the winter months is provide them shelter where they can escape the cold and stay dry.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends pet owners keep their pets inside as often as possible. The website states that under no circumstances should pet cats be left outdoors, even if they roam outside during other seasons, and that dogs should be kept inside when not going outside to exercise or use the restroom.

However, not every pet owner can keep their dog inside their home, but both The Humane Society of the United States and American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) have recommendations for that as well.

The groups recommend dogs have a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow them to move comfortably but small enough to hold in body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches from the ground to minimize heat loss into the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw that is changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds and should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic if possible.

The AVMF website states space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire.

Both websites also recommend pet owners routinely check their pet’s water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. They recommend that pet owners use plastic food and water bowls because when the temperature is low, a pet’s tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

When on walks

Part of caring for a dog is taking them on walks; however, when it is bitterly cold outside, there should be some precautions taken before heading outside.

The AVMF and The Humane Society of the United States recommend if your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider getting them a sweater or dog coat. 

The AVMF website also stated dog owners should have several dog coats/sweaters on hand so they can use a dry sweater or coat each time their dog goes outside. This is because wet sweaters or coats can actually make a dog colder. 

Another big issue when going on walks revolves around the pads of a dog’s feet, which can become uncomfortable and irritated by rock salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice

The ASPCA recommends dog owners massage petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside to help protect from salt and chemical agents. 

Booties can provide more coverage and can also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation, but if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.

The AVMF recommends dog owners wipe down or wash their pet’s feet, legs and belly when they get back inside to remove any chemicals attached to them and reduce the risk that their dog will be poisoned if they lick the chemicals off of their feet or fur. 

Another important tip is to consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.

If your animal is in need of medical care emergency services, the Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Never hesitate to take your animal in if they need medical care.

If you see an animal that may be in danger this winter season, contact the Ames Animal Shelter at 515-239-5530, but remember, not all dogs outside may be in danger; some dogs such as the husky and akita are bred to be cold-weather dogs.

Taking all of these steps into consideration will help you protect your dearly loved pets this winter season. Take care of them, love them. They are part of your family, and they deserve the same respect as any other member.