Cold Protection for Hot Dogs & Cats

red Dog and white cat

THIS would be Karma’s answer…if Magic would let him snuggle! Image Copr. Drago_Nika/

Do your fur-kids enjoy the cold weather? Or do they use shivery days to campaign for more lap time? How do YOUR pets stay warm during shivery days?

I know it’s only Fall and warm weather will hang around for another month here in North Texas. But the cold is just around the corner. Magical-Dawg loves seeing his breath and would spend lots more time outside–if his humans could stand it! Seren-Kitty, though, is a heat seeking kitty and has staked out several warm nap spots throughout the house. Karma-Kat showed up during cold weather last year, and has a distinct preference for sunny spots.

What about your cats and dogs? Paws up, or down, to winter?

Sure, they have fur mufflers to keep icy winter blasts at bay. But pets risk cold weather dangers just as much as people do, and maybe even more. Because most folks have a warm place to retreat, and not all cats and dogs have this luxury. Others, like Magical-Dawg, may not have the sense to come in from the cold when they’d rather play in the frigid temps.

I grew up in Northern Indiana and hated the cold–I still do, although I do appreciate seeing a white Christmas (but from the view inside the house, LOL!). My thriller LOST AND FOUND takes place during a freak blizzard that puts a little boy and his service dog at risk for freezing to death. The main character September offers cold weather pet tips in a radio interview as the book opens. And the sequel HIDE AND SEEK continues the story, with the Maine Coon kitty character lost outside in freezing temps. Yep, I include “real life” risks in the fiction but when it comes to your cats and dogs, be sure you know all the furry de-tails to keep ’em safe (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

Dog for a walk in winter

Small dogs and thinly furred canines need help staying warm. Image Copr. Pingvin121674/


Dogs and cats don’t benefit from gi-normous dog houses, and even the garage (unless it’s heated!) may not be protective. Instead, they curl up in small shelters that can be warmed by their own body heat.

Shelter from the wind and precipitation is vital. Fluffed fur traps warm air next to the skin in an insulating layer, but wind strips that away.Getting wet makes the cold worse, when fur can’t fluff to hold warm air. A twenty-mile-per-hour wind makes forty-degree weather feel like 18 degrees, more than enough to cause frostbite in an unprotected cat or dog.

Adult dog and cat body temperature ranges from about 100 to 102.5 degrees F. Puppies and kittens, though, have trouble maintaining body temperature. Newborn pups and kittens must pile together in furry bundles, or snuggle next to Mom–and if left alone, they can develop hypothermia and die even in mild weather. Huddling together shares warmth and reduces wind loss of heat, and shivering generates heat.

Shorthaired pets have less protection but even fuzzy critters are at risk. Thinly furred areas or body parts exposed to the wind or that come in contact with the icy ground have little protection from the cold. And the little dogs may develop potty issues because they simply hate getting cold and would rather “go” where it’s nice and warm–inside!

Pets conserves heat by diverting blood circulation from the ear tips, toes and tail to protect the vital organs in the central part of the body. But reduced circulation to these extremities increases the chance for frostbite.

cat at a window

Cats like Seren prefer to experience winter through the window. Image Copr. yanikap/


Tissue is 90 percent water. When frozen, cells rupture when the water expands just like ice cubes overflowing the tray. The resulting damage—termed frostbite—can be painful and severe.

Frostbite turns the skin pale white, gray or blue. Fur may hide the damage but you’ll notice pets limp from frozen toes, frozen ear tips or tails droop, and the skin will be very cold, hard, and nonpliable.

Redness, blisters, and serious infection develop days later. If it’s really severe, the affected tissue turns leathery and insensitive to sensation. If not removed surgically, those areas fall off. When I worked as a vet tech in Eastern Kentucky, we often had pet patients that lost parts of ears, toes and in one memorable case, an Elkhound lost his curled tail. All cases of frostbite need veterinary attention after first aid. Details for treating frostbite and hypothermia can be found in The First Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats.


While frostbite causes discomfort and damage to the extremities, hypothermia happens when overall body temperature falls below normal. In people hypothermia is defined as body temperature lower than 95 degrees, and treatment is vital to survival. When body temperature falls too low in pets, they can die.

Mild hypothermia happens if body temperature drops to between 95 to 99 degrees F. Pets act a bit sluggish and lethargic, and you’ll see muscle tremors and shivering. Moderate hypothermia is more serious when the temperature falls to 91 to 95 degrees. Severe hypothermia is body temperature 90 degrees or less, and is an emergency—take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible! Pets lose the ability to shiver if their body temperature falls to 90 degrees or below, so that’s a warning sign. They may fall unconscious, and rescue breathing may be necessary.

The best protection is to provide shelter from the wet and cold. Bring outdoor cats and dogs inside during severe cold. Why not snuggle together, share body heat and protect each other safe from Old Man Winter’s dangers?

So how do you protect your pets from cold weather? Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!


Cold Protection for Hot Dogs & Cats — 16 Comments

  1. Back when my folks still had outside dogs and cats, they had little mini houses inside the barn full of straw for the kitties to pile into – of course they would all pile into the same tiny box. LOL The dogs’ houses were made smaller by stuffing tons and tons of straw in them – they were also 2-roomed dog houses that my dad built, so they normally curled up in the back room furthest from the door, totally bundled in straw. Dad always used to pile straw bales around the pen, too, to cut the wind. Their last dog for some reason got terrified of the straw though, just totally flipped out and tried to dig out, so he had to be moved to the garage.

    Now their “outdoor kitties” stay in the garage because the coyotes have gotten too bold in recent years and they lost a couple of their favorite babies, finding out the barn was not enough protection anymore. There’s a fan in there for the summer, and a kerosene heater they turn on when they’re at home in the winter – only when they can supervise. They also have a box lined with blankets and such, sealed up on almost all sides, with a vent hole that I believe faces in toward part of the basement wall where it can get some of the heat from there. At least, that was the plan – I don’t know if he ever got that fully set up though.

    Of course, our kitties are indoors all the time, so they just pick a spot in the sun and flop. 😉

    • Karyl, this sounds like a well thought out system for your folks’ pets. I think it was last year that about this time a stray kitty showed up at my brother’s home in Ohio, and finally invited herself inside. Cats are smart that way!

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  3. I have a Great Dane, and so she doesn’t have much natural protection from the cold. With my previous Dane, we installed a heat lamp (with a protective cover of course so she wouldn’t burn herself) in a dog house for her for when she had to be outside. Our current Dane hates the dog house, so we have to keep her in if we’re going to be gone for any length of time and just ask a friend to stop by to let her out if we’re gone too long for her bathroom needs. My cats are way too smart to want to go outside in winter. They actually don’t ever want to go outside 🙂

  4. So glad you covered this topic, so badly needed! Our friends with outdoor cats set up blankets and carriers and other warm areas for them. It was during a particular cold snap that one furdarling talking them into an indoor gig.

    Our furdarlings are both indoor only (and both used to be feral outdoor darlings). Oscar thinks 35-40 is PURRFECT temp for being outside, colder okay too –it has to be pretty cold for him not to ask to be carried outside. He has a thick, minklike fur & back when he was allowed on the ground outside loved to run with the glee & delight of the ermine or mink in that scene in the movie GORKY PARK.

    We don’t keep it terribly hot inside in winter so Oscar has always spent more time in our laps then. He likes to snuggle under the couch blanket.

  5. Great information here about something I’ve never thought about before. And the photo is wonderful, too.

    [Susie sent me, btw. Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting.]

  6. That’s how we ended up with Mr. Orange. It gets cold up here early, and it isn’t unusual for snow to hit in September.

    We had the back seat out of the minivan, under the carport, and he was apparently sleeping on it. My wife had seen him, put out some cat food, and the night I first saw him, with his ribs sticking out, I invited him inside. He’s been here two years now.

    The cats aren’t allowed outside. Bears, foxes, etc. come right into town. My mother-in-law lives just down the road, and one day she heard noises from her back deck. Her youngest son had put the garbage out a night early, and a bear was on the deck, tearing it apart.

    The dogs only go outside when we do. Both love playing in the snow, but on cold days (-30 C and below) they are out, and back in so fast it would make your head spin. Town 1/2 hour north of us hit -56 C last January. Huskies love it, most other dogs aren’t so happy.


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