It’s Cold Outside

The District Vet


It’s cold outside. After this past summer, who would have thought that winter would ever return? As we huddle inside, it is important to remember that cold can be as dangerous as heat to our pets.

Indoor / outdoor cats are especially vulnerable to cold weather. Many cats lack a sufficient hair coat, resulting in hypothermia. When they are outside without easy access to the indoors, they will actively search for a shelter or warm place. This can result in cats wandering into unsafe areas or on top of car engines. Some may even become disoriented and lost. If the temperature is uncomfortable for you, that means your cat should be indoors.

There are a number of community cats, formerly feral, that have been spayed and neutered by the Humane Rescue Alliance and returned to their colonies within the city. If there is a colony near you, consider building the cats a warm hut in which to reside. HRA has instructional videos for this simple construction project. This will enable you to provide homeless cats with a safe haven from the harsh winter elements.

Cats like to sit on warm car engines. Before you get into your car, even if it is in a garage, bang on the hood a few times. It may scare a cat who has taken up residence, but it will spare them from encountering a running engine. Honking your horn is also sufficient.

When it comes to dogs, practice common sense. Know your dog’s limits. If you have a Husky or similar northern breed, winter is their pleasure. But if your companion is a small puppy or thin-haired friend, remember that they can get cold quickly. Dogs should be walked outside, but limit walks with sensitive pups to short jaunts. For some, a coat may be necessary, but most dogs with a thick coat are usually fine for twenty minutes in moderately cold weather. If raining, make walks very short.  No dog should be left for long periods in an outside yard during cold weather, and the District has laws against this practice.

Older dogs and cats are more sensitive to the weather. Think of them like mature people: cold makes their joints ache more. You may consider providing more warm-bedded areas and making sure that they have a comfortable, non-drafty place to sleep. Walking on icy surfaces is also more challenging for our elder pets, as they may be more prone to slipping and falling.

Dr. Rachael Frost, the newest veterinarian to join the District Vet team, reminds everyone to wipe down a pet’s feet after going for a walk. The salt used on the pavement can be irritating to their feet. Also check their fur for de-icers or other residues as some of these can be toxic if ingested. Look between toes, too, as salt and ice can lodge in here, causing discomfort. Trimming hairs between the toes may help prevent accumulation of ice balls.

Dr. Frost says that, “If you pet needs a bath in the winter, bathe them indoors and ensure they are completely dry before taking outside.” Frequent, but not aggressive brushing, will help maintain a healthy coat, keeping your pet warm.

In the summer we worry about hot cars, in the winter, cold ones. A car can get cold almost as quickly as it can heat up! Old, ill, or otherwise sensitive pets should never be left in a car alone.

As we enter winter, please stay happy, healthy, comfortable, and warm.

Dr. Teich is the medical director for District Veterinary Hospitals in Eastern Market and Brookland.  Visit for more information.