The Warm Fur Myth

Many people believe that since dogs and cats have thick fur, they are perfectly comfortable staying outside in the snow. While this may be true for some dog species for a few hours, like Huskies, Malamutes, St. Bernard’s, etc., most pets will suffer from frostbite or hypothermia, given cold enough temperatures. The best way to prevent hypothermia and frostbite is to keep pets inside during cold weather. Dogs will still need to let outside to relieve themselves often and get exercise on walks, but this should be supervised.


Frostbite occurs after exposure to extremely cold temperatures and usually affects the extremities, like paws, noses, tails, and ears. Symptoms include very pale skin and ice forming around the affected area, and when the pets are brought inside and are warmed, the skin can become swollen or start to peel, then turn red or a dark purple-grey.

If you suspect your pet may have frostbite, warm them with a heated towel or blanket from the dryer. Do not give pain medication or try to squeeze or rub the affected areas as this can cause more damage. Keep them warm, but not overheated, as you transport them to your veterinarian or local emergency animal hospital. It is important they see a veterinarian as soon as possible in case surgery is required to remove the dead tissue.


An animal can develop hypothermia when cold temperatures depress their center nervous system, which causes their body temperature to become abnormally low. There are three stages of hypothermia:

Mild hypothermia: muscle weakness, shivering, and lack of mental alertness.

Moderate hypothermia: muscle stiffness, low blood pressure, a stupor-like state, and shallow, slow breathing.

Severe hypothermia: fixed and dilated pupils, inaudible heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and coma.

Those at increased risk include those who are very young or old, low body fat, hypothalamic disease or hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, and who are recovering from anesthesia and surgery. Since the pet’s heartbeat, breathing, immune system, core body temperature, and blood pressure are all at risk, it is important to have your pet seen by a veterinarian right away if you suspect hypothermia. In severe cases, your pet will likely need oxygen, warmed IV fluids, and have her body temperature, blood pressure, and heart closely monitored while warming to a normal core temperature.

Providing Outdoor Shelter:

If your dog or cat must be kept outside, they MUST have access to a warm, dry, and draft free shelter that:

-is large enough to allow the dog or cat to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold in his/her body heat.

-is raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw.

-has a doorway that is covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.


Your pet should also have outdoor access to clean, unfrozen water and food served in plastic dishes (a wet tongue may freeze to a metal bowl). Animals who spend a lot of time outside in the cold deplete their energy reserves much more quickly, so they need more food than in the summer months.

Reporting a Pet Left Outside:

If you see an animal left out in the cold without shelter, politely notify the owner that you are concerned for their pet’s well-being. If they still do not provide adequate shelter and you want to notify your local animal control agency, document what is happening.

The authorities will need:

-the date(s) and time(s) you saw the animal left outside

-the address of the affected animal and its exact location (IE in the backyard, by the large tree)

-the type of animal and breed

-if there is more than one pet left outside

-any other relevant information (if the pet is always left outside, if it is very thin, if it has food and water, if it has any kind of shelter, etc.)



Information in this blog come from: