Winter can be amazing… snowmen, sledding, hot cocoa… and playing in the snow with your dog! But there are scary dangers that can be hiding in plain site and be deadly for your dog. These dangers are real and in the joy of the holiday season, you definitely don’t want to be rushing your dog to the emergency vet.

avoid 13 scary winter dangers dog
Can you tell our dog JJ loved to play in the snow?

1. Antifreeze

Antifreeze is extremely toxic to your dog. Never, ever leave your dog in the garage. Be aware of possible anti-freeze leaks on your garage floor, driveway, and streets.

If your dog should walk through even a small amount then lick his paws, it can be fatal. According to the Animal Poison Control Center, there are 3 stages of antifreeze poisoning.

Stage 1 — 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion • Signs of Walking Drunk • Drooling • Vomiting • Seizures • Excessive Thirst and Urination Stage 2 – 12 to 24 hours after ingestion • Clinical signs seem to “resolve” when in fact more severe internal injury is still occurring Stage 3 – 36 to 72 hours after ingestion • Severe Acute Kidney Failure • Loss of appetite, not eating • Lethargy • Drooling • Halitosis/Bad Breath (secondary to kidney failure) • Coma • Depression • Vomiting • Seizures Information sourced from Animal Poison Control Center

Visit the Animal Poison Control Center for more information.

Wash your dog’s paws right away with soap and water if you think he may have come in contact with any antifreeze. If you think he has ingested antifreeze, call your emergency vet immediately.

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2. Ice/Snow Melt

Many ice melts contain chemicals that can be harmful to your dog’s paws and can make them sick if he licks his paws after exposure. Even if you use a pet-safe ice melt, don’t expect all your neighbors are doing the same. When returning home from a walk outside, make sure to wipe down your dog’s paws.

You can find Safe Paw Non-Toxic Ice Melter on Amazon, making it easy to add to your shopping list. Also, consider purchasing paw wipes to set by the door so you can clean your dog’s paws easily when coming in from a wintery day.

3. Frostbite

If you are cold outside, chances are your dog is too. Living in the Midwest, we get some pretty nasty winters. Air temperatures can fall to well below zero and wind chills are even worse. Now it’s not that cold every day, but I’d say it averages around 10-20° during the deep winter months.

Every dog is different, and certain breeds are built for the snowy cold weather. So I don’t have a chart of temps to watch for, but I can tell you to be aware of your dog. Your dog’s paws, ears, and nose are all exposed to the same air temps you are. If you are freezing or you notice your dog is starting to pick up his paws more than usual, then it’s time to head inside.

avoid 13 scary winter dangers dog - hypothermia

4. Hypothermia

Hypothermia can occur in your dog if he is outside in the cold for an extended period of time. My dogs live inside our home, but I do understand that some dogs live outside. Please consider bringing your dog inside on extreme cold weather days. Or supply a heated dog house when he needs it, along with heated dog beds and heated dog bowls so his water doesn’t freeze.

When I first met my husband 25 years ago, he had a Samoyed, named Duke, that he had rescued from a neglect situation. He was chained outside in a kennel and was in terrible condition. We tried to make Duke an indoor dog, but he refused to live inside the house. No matter how hard we tried to bring him in the house during the cold winter days, he would sit at the door and beg to go back outside. So we had an Igloo dog house for him outside, made sure he always had fresh water and made the best home we could for him in the backyard.

PetMD has a great article on hypothermia signs to watch for, and immediate care options.

5. Cracked and Bleeding Paws

Between the dry air that winter brings and walking on snow and ice, your dog’s paws can become cracked and start bleeding if not taking care of. We have found that Musher’s Secret is great for protecting our dog’s paw pads all year round. You can also try putting doggy booties on your dog, I haven’t been brave enough to buy any since I’m pretty sure my dogs won’t keep them on!

6. Fire Danger

Using a portable space heater in the winter is very common. In fact, I have a small one running in my home office right now to keep me warm while I work on my blog! The problem comes in when you have a space heater located near flammable items in your home. If you have a dog that loves to run around and play, he could tip the space heater over and start a fire. Keep the space heater away from your pets, and try to find a space heater with a safety tip-over detection.

7. Frozen Lakes or Ponds

I feel every year I hear a story about a dog having to be rescued from the frozen water. Water-loving dogs may decide to try and take a swim in a frozen lake. Or you may not even have a dog that likes water, but she chases a squirrel or another dog onto the frozen lake and falls in because of thin ice. Whatever the reason, the last thing you want is to loose your dog in the frozen water and not be able to save him! Please keep your dog on a leash around lakes during the winter months.

Personally, I know our dog, Bear, would jump into any body of water, in fact, he will find the smallest puddle, mud or water to roll around in.  So we would never let him loose near any water in the winter, I’d be terrified that he would jump in and not be able to get out because of the ice and freezing temps.

8. Ice

I think most of us can say we’ve slipped on the ice at least once in our lifetime, I know I have… and it hurts! Maybe you’ve broken an arm, leg or hit your head on the ice. The point I’m making is, even though your dog has four legs, he can still slip on the ice. Not seeing a patch of ice on the sidewalk or driveway can lead to a fall or torn ligaments. Be careful when walking and try and keep your dog off the ice.

Last year one of the dog parks we frequent got super icy. Once it snows, hundreds of dogs run over it, packing the snow down and creating a very slippery and icy trail. Unfortunately, we had to give up the dog park until the ice melted.

9. Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a hazard for people and dogs. It’s always a great idea to have Carbon monoxide detectors in your home, they can save you and your dog’s life! And never leave your dog alone inside your car while leaving the engine run.

10. Houseplants

Certain houseplants are toxic to dogs. If you’ve had plants outside for the summer and bring them inside for the winter, you may not have thought about the impact on your pets.

What plants are toxic to your dog? Read Beautiful Flowers and Cute Puppies… Are Plants Toxic to Dogs? I think you’ll be surprised on how many plants are actually toxic to our dogs, I know I was!

Interestingly, the popular Christmas Poinsettia is actually known for being toxic to dogs and cats, but according to the Pet Poison Hotline, they are only mildly toxic.

11. Electrical Wires

If you put up a Christmas tree you likely have a nest of wires behind the tree and don’t forget the outside Christmas lights, if you are like us, we have extension cords and electrical wires from the lights hanging around the entire house. Never leave your dog unattended around the wires, especially if you have a puppy that is a chewer! Even a few short seconds of chewing can electrocute your puppy!

12. Christmas Decorations

Christmas trees, ornaments, hooks, and tinsel are all harmful to your dog. If you have a live tree, make sure your dog doesn’t decide to chew the branches, as it can cause blockage and internal damage.

Fake or live trees can topple over onto your dog, make sure you use a heavy-duty tree stand. We actually had a tree fall over one year… we had chosen a tree that year that was bigger than we ever had before. In the middle of the night we heard a big crash, yup it was the tree! The tree was on the floor and half of the ornaments were broken. The tree stand we always used was too small for the huge tree. We went out the next morning and got the biggest tree stand possible! Thank God no kids or dogs were in the room when it fell, it could have been much worse.

Ornaments can fall and break, cutting your dog’s precious paws. And tinsel can cause internal damage if eaten. So long story short, just use extra caution during the holidays with your dog, just as you would with a baby.

13. Pesticides and Rodenticides

Winter brings pesky problems with mice, rats, and insects trying to find a warm place to sleep in our garages and homes. You may be quick to set up a mouse trap or spray your home with a pesticide to rid of those nasty buggers, but consider what happens if your dog should find the poison?

In conclusion,

I can’t go without mention overfeeding your dog… it may not be deadly, but during the cold winter months, you and your dog’s activity level will most likely drop. Your dog does not need the same amount of calories during the less active months of winter. So be aware of his food intake vs. exercise level and make sure he isn’t packing on the winter pounds. This can apply to us as humans too, all those holiday sweets are very tempting!

Leave a comment below with what you do to keep your dog safe in winter, it just may help save another dog’s life!


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About the Author

Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

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  1. Your list is excellent! I would also add that if you have house guests for the holidays, be sure you remind them not to leave medications (prescriptions or over-the-counter) out where a curious dog can get to them. Because dogs are often smaller than humans, it may only take ingesting a few of Grandma’s heart medication to make a pet seriously ill.

  2. Aww yes, the Christmas decorations is the big one we watch out for. The boys get crated for the month because Beau can and will eat anything. Generally we keep his area pet friendly- with the exception of the holidays. He’s big enough to take the stocking off the mantle. Naughty boys. They would never dare while we’re home but they know when we aren’t.

  3. This is such an important post. I’m going to share it. I especially liked the chart on anti-freeze poisoning. I had no idea about stage 2 where the dog appears better but is still being poisoned. I can so identify with ice on frozen ponds. My springer would try to walk on ice all the time and I had to keep her on a leash near any body of water in the winter.

  4. I have to pin this for all my winter pups out there! What an inclusive post you have here, you’ve thought of everything! I live in Florida so we don’t experience many of these things but about the booties, go for it! I think its worth a shot, I had to buy them to keep my pup from cutting her paws when swimming in the Gulf on mollusks and shells and it was a really good investment (until she climbed out of the kayak and one wrangled its way off into the sea).

  5. Great list. I’m not a dog mom however a former cat mom. I can definitely testify to beware of Christmas decorations and electrical wires. I definitely remember catching my little ones gnawing on wires when they were young (and even older). You have to keep wires out of the way or tightly wrapped so they don’t hang and entice your pets. Be safe.

  6. Thanks for these wonderful tips on how to keep your dog safe I will be useing them. I put a sweater on my dog so she can be warm.

  7. Yikes, and I thought just having humans and (a tiny risk here) antifreeze to worry about.

    Well done with a comprehensive list for dog owners. This is vital information for dogs big and small. I think a suit of doggy armour and bog boots might be needed!

  8. We live in the midwest with pretty crazy winters. It’s pretty cold today and Ruby’s paws were definitely cold – we cut our walk short.

    I’m glad you mentioned the indoor winter dangers as well. I think sometimes people forget about those.

  9. Ugh — we used to have SO MUCH ice melt in our last neighborhood. We lived off of a commercial stretch, and none of the business owners wanted to be sued! I would have to scoop Henry up and carry him since he’s very boot-adverse.

  10. Fantastic tips thanks for sharing. You can never read life saving info too often. I make sure to keep Red in a sweater indoors as well as out, and when we go for walks she wears a coat as well. Wherever she sleeps is always well heated and I keep a fleece blanket on every bed in case she needs extra warmth. We don’t get snow where we live but when I did bring her to Canada with me one winter she couldn’t cope with the ice. Boots were not working so I bought her paw wax which made all the difference.

  11. I am forever worrying about these things! Especially ice melts and antifreeze! I got some paw salve so that is good. I stay away from toxic things but I worry about what my neighbors may be using!

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