Winter has finally arrived in Ohio, and with it the freezing temperatures, snow, and slick ground. Do you know about the problems the extreme cold can cause for your pet?


Frostbite is the damage that is caused to the skin (and other tissues) in extremely cold temperatures. The body’s natural response to colder temperatures is for blood vessels close to the skin to narrow; this can greatly reduce blood flow to the extremities, which can allow the tissue to freeze and cause severe damage. In dogs and cats that are outside, the paws, ears, and tail are the most common tissues to be affected. If the animal is wet, those areas on the body are even more vulnerable to frostbite. Animals that already have diseases that reduce blood flow are at even greater risk for frostbite; these include heart disease and diabetes, for example.

Frostbite may be apparent by discolored skin (pale, gray, bluish), cold or brittle skin, painful skin, swelling of the skin, blisters of the skin, or darkened/black skin. When the skin thaws, it may become very red and painful due to the inflammation. One of the problems with frostbite is that it may not be apparent the day the damage occurred; it may take several days for the area to show symptoms. After days or weeks, the tissue may fall off. You may see pus in the affected area or note a foul smell; this indicates it is infected.

If you suspect your pet has frostbite, the best thing to do is seek immediate veterinary medical attention. Keep your pet warm and dry (wrap in warm dry towels or blankets), avoid touching the affected areas, and call your ER or regular veterinarian and then have them seen immediately. The prognosis depends on the extent of the injuries. Mild cases may resolve with little permanent damage, while more severe cases may result in permanent disfiguration of the tissues involved. In the most extreme cases, amputation of the affected area may be necessary.

Ethylene Glycol Poisoning

Ethylene glycol is the active ingredient in antifreeze, and can also be found in lower concentrations in some windshield de-icing agents, hydraulic brake fluid, motor oils, solvents, paints, film processing solutions, wood stains, inks, printer cartridges, etc. Animals may be attracted to it because of its sweet odor and taste. Many animals will drink ethylene glycol if antifreeze is spilled or leaks onto garage floors or driveways. As little as one eighth of a teaspoon per pound of cat can result in fatalities in cats, while as little as half a teaspoon per pound of dog can result in fatalities in dogs. This chemical causes kidney failure.

Symptoms of ingestion early on (< 12 hours after ingestion) include lethargy, vomiting, unstable when walking, excess urination and thirst, and in the worst cases, low body temperature, seizures, and coma. In some cases, in the 12-24 hour time period after ingestion, some of the symptoms improve. This is when the animal will become dehydrated, and can develop a fast heart rate and breathing. After this time, severe kidney dysfunction/failure develops. Without treatment, the symptoms will progress and the animal will pass away.

If you suspect that your pet has ingested ethylene glycol or has symptoms that may indicate that, please bring it to your veterinarian. The best chance of treatment success is with immediate treatment. There is a very narrow window of time (hours) after ingestion that the antidote will be able to work. If you keep any pets in your garage or around your driveway, ensure that any antifreeze you have is properly stored, and any spills are cleaned up immediately.

Ice Melts

With winter comes the risk of slipping on the ice, and as a result, the use of many different kinds of ice melts. The following link is an article from the Pet Poison Helpline that discusses the different ingredients used in different ice melts, and the safety risks of each.

Ice-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries

With how easy it is for people to slide on the ice, it’s important to be careful when walking your dog outside or letting them loose in dog parks or backyards that may have ice patches. It is easy for them to splay their legs on a slippery surface and fall. A fall on ice can result in strained or torn ligaments or tendons, or even fractures. When walking your dog on a leash outside, make sure to go slow. If your dog becomes lame after a slip on the ice, set up an appointment with your veterinarian to be seen as soon as possible. Do not try any over-the-counter pain medication without consulting your veterinarian, as many over-the-counter medications can be harmful to your pet.

Cold Weather Tips for Outside Pets

We recommend keeping your pets indoors to avoid these winter weather hazards. If you must keep a pet outside, make sure you have appropriate shelter from the wind and precipitation. Good bedding is also key; straw or blankets are a good option. Avoid electric heating due to the risk of fire. Fresh water is important at all times for pets, therefore in the frigid winter it is necessary to check the water bowl for freezing multiple times per day. Heated water bowls are another option.
Outdoor pets may need additional calories to help maintain their body temperature. If you keep a pet outdoors, please consider consulting with your veterinarian to ensure you are doing everything to keep your pets safe. If you are in doubt about leaving a pet outside due to temperature or precipitation, it is better to err on the side of caution and keep it inside.