Keeping pets safe as colder weather approaches

Posted at 7:20 AM, Oct 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-10 09:20:17-04

While we might be at the be in the first month of fall, the cooler season is already approaching us.

After speaking with the Great Falls Animal Shelter, we got to check in with them on some tips pet owners should keep in mind as we are just a few months away from the winter season.

GF Animal Shelter Volunteer Coordinator Laramie Smovir stated, "There's a lot of things that you want to keep in mind when you're thinking about your animals during winter. The first and most important thing is their paws. They've got a soft skin area. You want to make sure that as they're coming in and out of the house that those paws are getting cleaned. You want to make sure that they're getting cleaned and dried and then, if at all possible, take some petroleum jelly, some Vaseline, and massage those paws a little bit to make sure that they're staying nice and moist. It's just like a human lip in that they get chapped, and you want to make sure that those aren't splitting and cracking, especially with the salt that gets put down during the winter."

Smovir also noted the importance of having a humidifier in the home.

"You'll see that your dog during the winter probably gets a little bit of itchy skin," Smovir said. "That's because of the difference in the humidity from outside to inside. By providing a little bit of extra humidity in the house, you're going to reduce that itchiness in their skin, which will be super helpful for them living in Great Falls.

One thing that is emphasized not only by those who specialize in taking care of animals, but first responders as well, is making sure they are not kept outside for long periods of time. That includes not keeping them out for longer than 15 minutes when it hits below 30 degrees.

Each year, animal control, shelters, and first responders deal with stray animals. Even worse, they run into incidences where dogs get stuck in icy lakes, potentially leading them to drown.

Smovir said, "with the mighty Missouri River, while it's beautiful, you want to make sure that your dogs stay on a leash any time they're near that water. It's fast moving and its thin ice. Every year we see animals go through the ice at some point in time.

The Great Falls Animal Shelter says during the colder time of the season, they tend to see animals with hypothermia or frostbite.

If you do have to leave your pet outside, make sure their shelter is insulated and that they have something like straw to burrow down into.

The American Veterinary Medical Association's website has more information about winter safety for pets, including this excerpt (

  • Provide choices: Just like you, pets prefer comfortable sleeping places and may change their location based on their need for more or less warmth. Give them some safe options to allow them to vary their sleeping place to adjust to their needs.
  • Stay inside. Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. It's a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it's untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods in below-freezing weather.
  • Make some noise: A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it's deadly. Check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood.
  • Check the paws: Check your dog's paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes.
  • Play dress-up: If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog's feet; if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.
  • Wipe down: During walks, your dog's feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down (or wash) your pet's feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after (s)he licks them off of his/her feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.
  • Provide shelter: We don't recommend keeping any pet outside for long periods of time, but if you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment.