Practice Safety First With Household Pets During Frigid Winter Weather

County’s animal control administrator urges caution as temperatures remain low

Pet owners should take special precautious with dangerously low temperatures still forecasted.

Dr. Donna Alexander, administrator of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, has tips for pet should to keep in mind during the cold weather season.

“It’s important for pet owners to remember that they should adjust their pets’ normal routine,” Dr. Alexander said. “Prolonged exposure to cold, snow and ice can be as dangerous for dogs and cats as it is for humans.”

Recommendations for pet owners:

  • Bring all pets indoors: All dogs and cats, whether or not they are acclimated to outdoor living, must be brought indoors during sub-zero weather. As the responsible caregiver of a pet, you should provide an indoor heated shelter for your animal. 
  • Salt and ice: Both salt and ice can irritate your dog’s footpads. If your dog will tolerate them, foot coverings are advised. If your dog will not tolerate foot coverings, avoid the salt when possible and wash the dog’s paws with warm water when you return home.  
  • Frostbite: Dogs and cats may have fur coats but they also have exposed areas that are susceptible to frostbite. Limit their time outdoors for waste elimination only. Walks should not exceed 10 minutes in sub-zero temperatures. Check their pads when you get home and wash with warm (not hot) moist towels.  If you suspect frostbite on any extremity, including the nose or the tips of the ears, contact your veterinarian.
  • Properly secure potentially poisonous material, such as antifreeze: Antifreeze is extremely toxic to all living creatures. Keep antifreeze bottles out of the reach of animals and clean up all antifreeze spills immediately.
  • Medical care: Pet owners should have an established doctor-patient-client relationship with a veterinarian close to home and establish an emergency protocol. If your pet is taking prescription medication, make sure you have adequate amounts in case of closures due to weather

Recommendations regarding wild and feral animals:

  • Honk before starting your car: Feral cats and wild animals will seek refuge and warmth wherever they can. A car’s engine, for example, may provide a warm spot to “hole up” in sub-zero conditions. Drivers should honk their vehicle’s horn before starting the ignition to give a wakeup call to any critter that may be hiding.
  • Call officials if a wild animal enters your home: If an animal has chosen your attic, your garage or even space under a deck as refuge, close off access to the rest of the house and contact local officials for their removal. 

While laws in some municipalities may require only that pet owners provide food, water and a shelter, an outside dog house may not be suitable in this kind of frigid weather, Dr. Alexander said.

She urged not only pet owners, but all residents, to be alert to pets being left outside for extended periods and, if they see or hear something that seems amiss in this kind of weather, to contact local authorities, including the Department of Animal and Rabies Control (708-974-6140).


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