Winter Health Hazards for Dogs

Labrador Sitting In Snow

Winter can be a wonderful season for dogs who love romping in the snow. However, there are many seasonal hazards to be aware of that can lead to potential health problems for your dog, some of which are potentially fatal.

Antifreeze and Windshield Wiper Fluids

Antifreeze is a necessary tool for getting your car ready for the winter months, but it's deadly for your pet. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol which is highly toxic to dogs. This ingredient, as well as methanol, can also be found in many windshield wiper fluids. To make matters worse, antifreeze has a sweet taste and smell, so dogs are strongly attracted to licking it up.

Safety Tips for Antifreeze and Wiper Fluids

Since these are chemicals you'll likely need to keep handy, it's best to observe caution to keep your dog safe.

  • Do not allow your pet in the area where you store antifreeze and store it either in a closed cabinet or on a shelf high enough that your dog cannot reach it.
  • Wipe up any spills from the antifreeze container or your car and keep your dog anyway from any possible residue.
  • Most importantly, if you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze or wiper fluid, call your veterinarian immediately, or get your pet to the nearest vet clinic. Timing is critical to prevent your dog from becoming seriously ill or dying.

Ice Melt and Dogs

A common product used during the winter months is rock salt which is used to break down ice on walkways and streets.

  • Unfortunately it can be very painful for your dog to walk on this substance which is very corrosive.
  • Dogs with long hair can also get it caught in their fur on their feet, belly and tail.
  • Make sure you wash your dog off with a damp towel when you return from walks to make sure he's free of rock salt. This not only will keep his skin protected but also prevent him from accidentally licking rock salt which can be very toxic.
  • You can also buy protective booties for him to wear or you should use a product like Musher's Wax to protect his paw pads.
  • Finally, make sure you use pet friendly ice melt on your own driveways and walkways. While you still want your dog to avoid walking on it, this product is much safer for your dog than traditional rock salt. If you have neighbors who use rock salt, ask them if they'd be willing to use the pet-friendly alternative, which works just as well.
Cross-country skiing with dogs in the mountains

Pest Control

An often overlooked danger to dogs during the winter is poisoning from pest control products.

  • It's common for the number of mice and rats attempting to get inside your home to increase in winter as they want to get out of the cold and find food.
  • Therefore there will be more rodenticides placed in areas that your dog can get to and accidentally eat, which can be potentially fatal.
  • Talk to your pest control professional about pet friendly options to keep your dog safe.

Cold Temperatures Are Hazardous To Your Dog's Health

The icy temperatures can be a problem for your dog and depending on where you live and your dog's breed or age, particularly dangerous.


If your dog is left outside for any extended period during the winter months, they will be at risk of hypothermia.

  • Hypothermia is a severe drop in body temperature that can eventually lead to death if the dog's body temperature isn't brought back to normal levels.
  • Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Hypothermia can even happen to dogs left in a locked car if it's cold enough.
  • Senior dogs, smaller dogs, and dogs with short hair will be at higher risk of hypothermia.
  • Dogs with lighter colored coats will also get colder faster than dogs with dark coats.
  • Dogs suffering from certain conditions such as Cushing's disease, canine diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease will also be at higher risk as these medical issues make it harder for the body to handle regulating its temperature.
Close-Up Of Dog In Snow


A dog's extremities such as his tail, paws and his ears are especially at risk of frostbite. If you like going on long walks with your dog, even in the cold, pay attention to the temperature forecast and make sure your dog isn't outside so long that frostbite starts to set in.

How Cold is Too Cold?

The weather will vary depending on the wind chill factor and humidity but as a general rule of thumb:

  • 45 degrees Fahrenheit is the point where dogs will feel uncomfortable being outside
  • 32 degrees Fahrenheit (freezing point) is when you should keep outside sessions short for dogs more likely to succumb to the cold such as seniors, small dogs, dogs with medical conditions and dogs with short coats.
  • 20 degrees Fahrenheit is the point where hypothermia and frostbite are a serious risk for your dog
Border Collie waist deep in snow

Irritated Paws and Nose

Even if your dog isn't at risk of frostbite, walking outside in the winter can be tough on a dog's paws.

  • The ice and snow on the street can get caught in his toes and lead to red, irritated paw pads.
  • To prevent them from getting worse and infected, use Bag Balm or petroleum jelly to help his irritated skin.
  • Some dogs can also have irritated, cracked noses due to extreme cold and wind which can be treated with Snout Soother.
  • Shorter hair breeds can also suffer from dry skin all over with cold winter temperatures and winds so you may see more skin irritations overall.

Uncomfortable Temperatures for Some Dogs

If you have a dog with very short hair like a Chihuahua, they may find being outside in the winter unappealing compared to a dog with a thick furry coat like a St. Bernard. One way to help these dogs feel better is providing them with a dog sweater for your walks, which will make them look not only fashionable but help ward off the icy cold of the wind.

Frozen Water Dish

If your dog's water is left outside in the cold, chances are the water in his water bowl will freeze. Without fresh water, dogs can dehydrate.

Holiday Plants Can Become Dog Health Issues

Many plants associated with the holidays are harmful to our furry friends which unfortunately won't keep your dog from trying to eat them anyway.


You may want to kiss your beloved under this parasitic plant but keep it away from your pooch. Mistletoe can cause diarrhea, vomiting, shock and death within hours of ingestion.


Many families decorate the hearth and home with this colorful Christmas favorite, but if you have pets, you may want to decorate with the artificial version. While research has shown that this plant is not as harmful as once believed, it does produce an irritating milky sap that is harmful when swallowed.

Poinsettia on Christmas


The leaves and berries of the holly plant are harmful if swallowed. Signs of ingestion include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Lilies and Daffodils

Lilies and daffodils, which are often given as gifts during the holidays, can cause irreversible kidney damage.

Food Items That Cause Dog Health Problems

One of the best parts about winter are the winter holidays, which means family gatherings and lots of food! Many common holiday treats and meals can be toxic to your dog.

German Shorthaired Pointer sulks next to cookies


Chocolate is abundant during the holiday season when everybody is baking for friends and family.

  • While all types of chocolate are hazardous to your dog, baking chocolate is the most lethal.

  • Baking chocolate has the highest concentration of theobromine, an ingredient in chocolate that is toxic to dogs.

  • In high doses, chocolate can cause epileptic seizures and death.


Liquid coffee, coffee beans, espresso and other coffee products are harmful. The caffeine in these products does not react with a dog's system the same way it reacts with a person's system. Caffeine causes seizures, diarrhea, erratic heart rates and death in canines.

Macadamia Nuts

These nuts, often found in cookies around the holiday season, cause muscle weakness, tremors, and vomiting.

Yeast Dough

The ingestion of raw yeast dough can lead to serious alcohol intoxication due to the fermentation process. The rising of the dough in your dog can also cause bloat, a potentially deadly disorder.

Precautions Help Avoid Winter Hazards for Dogs

Winter definitely has its share of hazards for your dogs, but with a bit of planning and precautions, you and your pooch should be perfectly safe. Make sure you provide for him to keep outside walks as comfortable as possible and you'll both enjoy cuddling up for warmth during the winter holidays together.

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Winter Health Hazards for Dogs