11 Winter Pet Health Hazards to Avoid

Antifreeze, candles and other common cold-weather must-haves may be putting your furry friends at risk.

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Winter can bring cozy nights by the fireplace and snowy winter-wonderlands outside your window. But along with cooler temperatures come unique hazards to animals. Here are 11 cold weather hazards that can harm your pet, plus ways to keep your furry friends safe.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

Car hoods and engines

2 / 12 Car hoods and engines

When it’s cold outside, outdoor and feral cats like to curl up in vehicle engines to stay warm. And if they get trapped under the hood or car, they could get critically injured when the car starts up.

Before you crank up your car, bang on the hood and honk your horn, so that any animals hiding inside have time to escape. And if you can, keep your own cats inside during the winter, so they stay out of harm’s way.

Chilly temperatures

3 / 12 Chilly temperatures

Just like humans, animals can experience hypothermia and frostbite if outside for too long. You can take pets for walks outside, but bring them inside when temperatures start to fall.

Shorthaired pets may need a sweater or jacket and if your dog is weak, shivering or has trouble breathing, take their temperature. If it’s below 98 degrees, head to the vet. If it’s above 98 degrees, try to raise their temperature at home. Wrap them in a blanket, place a hot bottle of water wrapped in a towel near their stomach and check their temperature every 10 minutes. Cats and dogs should have a normal body temperature of 101.5 degrees.

Animals burn more energy when it’s cold, too, so giving them some extra calories (more food!) may provide energy and warmth.


4 / 12 Antifreeze

Your car may need antifreeze during the cooler months, but if ingested, the engine coolant is poisonous to dogs and cats.

The substance smells and tastes yummy to animals, so they may be tempted by any spills or leaks. Be sure to clean up spills or leaks so your pet doesn’t lick them up, and look for products with propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol, a chemical that’s still toxic, but safer.

If your pet has been exposed to antifreeze and seems disoriented or has coordination problems, grogginess or vomiting, see your veterinarian right away. If left untreated, ingestion could lead to a coma or even death.

Carbon monoxide

5 / 12 Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide, an odorless gas, is poisonous to both humans and animals. Fires, car exhaust, generators, unventilated furnaces and gas water heaters can emit the gas.

It’s best to keep pets out of the garage, especially if your car has been running. Be sure to keep them away from generators, unventilated furnaces, water heaters, fires and smoky areas, too.

If you think your pet has been exposed to carbon monoxide, head to your veterinarian so they can administer oxygen and other treatments. Your pet may need medical attention if they have trouble breathing, or seem weak or lethargic. Consider placing carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home to keep your family and pets safe.

Ice-melting salt

6 / 12 Ice-melting salt

When it comes to clearing a frozen or snowy path, ice salt works wonders. But the main ingredient in most salts—sodium chloride or calcium chloride—can irritate a pet’s paws and may be fatal if ingested.

Socks or booties will protect your pets’ paws from chemically-based ice-melting products and can be thrown in the washer after walks. If you don’t have socks or boots for your pet, be sure to clean their paws after a snowy walk outside. You can also use pet-safe salt products like Safe Paw or Morton Safe-T-Pet to treat your own sidewalks and driveways.

If your pet is vomiting, salivating or has diarrhea or weakness post-walk, they may have ingested some of the salt—see your veterinarian right away.


7 / 12 Candles

Your favorite pine-scented candle may fill your home with an amazing aroma, but it can be a major danger to your pet.

Cats and dogs alike are curious enough that they may swat at candles or try to touch them, burning themselves in the process. Pets may also jump up on tables and knock them over, which can cause a fire. Many animals may have allergic reactions or respiratory problems if they inhale candle chemicals like scents or soot, and some of these ingredients contain carcinogens and neurotoxins that are toxic to them.

Try using safe alternatives such as electric candles and avoid burning any candles with paraffin, lead, benzene, acrolein, toluene or artificial colors. And of course, never leave candles burning when you’re not home.

Indoor heaters and fire places

8 / 12 Indoor heaters and fire places

Space heaters cause more than 25,000 house fires every year, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Space heaters run on electricity, propane, natural gas or kerosene, but the potential risks depend on the type of space heater you have.

When investing in a small space heater, newer models have updated safety features. Select heaters that have the Underwriter's Laboratory label, which means the product has been tested, inspected and certified. If you have a permanent combustion space heater, make sure a professional inspects the ventilation every year. 

Space heaters should be kept on a level surface, up and away from where people and pets walk. If you have a fireplace, be sure to cover it with a sturdy screen your pet can’t topple over. 

Frozen bodies of water

9 / 12 Frozen bodies of water

Taking several walks each day is a good thing—the exercise is beneficial for both you and your pet. But beware of frozen ponds, lakes and other areas of cold water along your route; they can be major threats to you and your pet.

Try to find iceless paths and trails, and have your pup wear a life jacket or coat if you have to be around water. If your pup does take a dip and you can rescue them safely, wrap them in a warm blanket and place a hot water bottle that’s wrapped in a towel near their stomach. Take them to the veterinarian if their temperature is below 98 degrees. 


10 / 12 Rodenticides

If you use bait, poison or traps to get rid of unwanted critters like mice, beware. Like rodents, your pet may be attracted to the bait’s ingredients and tempted to eat or lick it. It depends on the bait’s active ingredient, but some poisons damage nerve cells, while others harm an animal’s cardiovascular system or cause muscle spasms.

If you have to use poison, try ready-to-use tamper-resistant bait stations. And watch your pets when they’re outside—your neighbors may have bait out, too. If your pet does become ill because they’ve inhaled or ingested something harmful, call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 right away.

Under-the-table bites

11 / 12 Under-the-table bites

It’s impossible to keep your fur baby away from the delicious holiday food (they always know when the bacon is cooking!), but a bite or two here and there could cause more harm than you think. Always avoid feeding your cats and dogs:

  • Chocolate
  • Citrus plants
  • Coconut, grapes
  • Raisins
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Onions
  • Raw meats
  • Eggs

You should also steer clear of giving Fido raw bones. Your pet can choke or the bone could become lodged in their digestive tract.

Pet-friendly human foods such as cooked chicken or salmon, pumpkin, scrambled eggs, apple slices or oatmeal make great treats and meal additions. Dogs can have peanut butter or carrots, too.

Poisonous holiday plants

12 / 12 Poisonous holiday plants

Holiday greenery may add some celebratory cheer to to your abode, but some popular picks may be harmful to your pet.

The sap in poinsettia leaves may irritate your pet’s mouth and esophagus and holly and mistletoe berries can cause intestinal upset if eaten or even seizures or death if large amounts are consumed. Lilies, daffodils, Amaryllis and Christmas cactuses can cause tummy issues, too.

When it comes to Christmas trees, it’s likely your pet could send it toppling if they tug on it, and the oil and needles can cause intestinal issues and irritation.

Position plants up high out of your pet’s reach, and if your dog or cat is a chewer, stick with artificial plants to be safe.

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