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How to Help Your Pets and Wildlife This Winter

Keep animals safe and warm this season with these helpful tips.

Petey (left) and Ernest enjoy a snowy outing.

Snow, ice and cold temperatures create unique challenges for our pets and wildlife neighbors. Here’s how you can help all creatures this winter.


Limit time outside in extreme temperatures. If it’s too cold for you to stay outside, it’s too cold for most pets. When the temperature dips, limit your dog’s time outdoors. Give him extra playtime inside for exercise. If you have a healthy Northern breed that loves the winter, she may tolerate the next “snowpocalypse”; however, keep track of how long she is out romping around.

Dress them for the weather. You pull on your puffer coat and wool socks to go out on a winter walk, but what about your dog? Shorthaired dogs, toy breeds and older dogs, especially, need extra help keeping warm. Bundle your pooch in a cute doggy sweater or parka.

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Protect their paws. Use only pet-safe ice-melting substances on your steps and sidewalks—salt can cause stinging and burns to the pads and is dangerous if ingested. When out for a walk, try to avoid areas that have been salted, and clean your dog’s paws with a soft towel as soon as you get home. If your pup will allow it, have him wear booties, or opt for a paw-protection wax (find it at an online retailer) commonly used on sled dogs.

Speak out if you see a pet left outside. No pet should be left out in the cold. If you are concerned about an animal, speak up. If you feel it’s safe, calmly talk to the owner. Or report the situation to your local animal-control agency or law enforcement—animal neglect is a crime. If possible, take pictures and record how long the dog has been outside.


Avoid drafts. If your cat normally sleeps on the floor, she might prefer her bed relocated to a higher location, away from drafty doors and windows.

Provide shelter for feral cats. Some people create makeshift homes for feral cats out of storage bins, wooden crates or Styrofoam coolers. Use towels, blankets or straw for insulation (hay will retain moisture and get moldy). If you put out food and water, check often to ensure it isn’t frozen.

Check under your hood. Cats (and other small critters) out in the cold often seek the warmth of a car’s engine. Before starting your car, bang on the hood a few times to scare away any animal that may be taking shelter there.


Feed the birds. Birds need extra energy to survive the cold winter, and natural food sources are scarce. Keep your feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds, shelled peanuts or suet. If your birdbath freezes over, break the ice to keep the water accessible (don’t touch the ice in fish ponds, as many fish survive better by hibernating beneath it).

Build a brush pile. Providing a cozy shelter for wild animals can be as easy as gathering sticks and brush into a pile in your yard or leaving dead plants and flowers in your garden. You can even recycle your Christmas tree and cut branches off to build up a pile.

Holiday Ideas

Give holiday cards that give back. Send cards that support animal causes. Options include organizations such as American Humane, the National Wildlife Federation and Guide Dogs of America.

Decorate safely. Keep holly, mistletoe and poinsettias out of reach. Nuts, chocolates and raisins are also dangerous for pets. Be mindful of breakable decorations and keep cats and dogs away from tinsel, which can be a hazard if ingested.

Help homeless pets. Shelters are often shorthanded during the holidays. Donate blankets, toys, food and kitty litter to shelters or supplies to wildlife refuges. Or volunteer to cuddle small pets or walk shelter dogs. Instead of giving animals as gifts, wrap up a few pet supplies and include a coupon to adopt a cat, dog, bunny or bird after the hectic holidays are over.

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