Protect wildlife and your pets in a freeze

Seven tips to keep local wildlife and your pets happy and healthy when it freezes

Green living

Laura Wolf | CC-BY-SA-2.0
Do your part to keep animals warm and dry!
Michael Lewis

Former Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center

Winter has truly started with freezing weather expected across much of Texas this week. While us humans will (hopefully) enjoy warmth in our homes it is worth taking a moment to help prepare our pets and local wildlife for the weather. Environment Texas would like to share these tips to make winter a little more bearable for our furry and feathered friends.

1. Refill those feeders

Cold weather saps energy and any birds or small animals will need as many calories as they can get. If you have any suet now is the time to use it. Also, did you know birds can eat peanut butter? There is a common myth that they will choke, but they actually love it! If you don’t want it in your feeder, smear some on tree bark. The squirrels will appreciate it too. Cracked corn, unsalted nuts, and dried fruit are also some favorites of our feathered and furry friends.

2. Provide water that isn’t frozen

Animal’s usual water sources freeze over. Put out a bowl or warm water and change it often so it doesn’t freeze over. If you have a brush pile or trees where animals live, that is the perfect place. If you ever put up a birdbath, note that many of them now come with heaters.

3. Give our outdoor friends a warm, dry place

If your area has outdoor or “community” cats, remember that they need shelter as well. If you can, leave out a bit of water and shelter. A pet crate (take off the door) with a blanket or towel inside can make a big difference.

Animals will look for a warm place to stay so pay attention when you’re outdoors. Small wildlife and cats love warming up under the hoods of cars. Scare them out by knocking on the hood before you go somewhere.

Speaking of warm places, put off the yard work. Brush piles, leaves, and gardens provide food and shelter for smaller animals so let them keep them while it’s freezing.

4. Pay attention to salt and deicer

If sidewalks freeze, some of us may use salt, sand, or chemical deicers. Deicers can be toxic to wildlife who will lick it off their paws when they walk through some. Additionally, they can irritate your pet’s feet and should be wiped off as soon as you can. Dogs may lick salt from their paws and it can make them very sick. Spills should be wiped up immediately.

5. Keep pets inside

We know dogs need to be taken out for walks or exercise, but keep them in as much as you can, especially when the temperature drops. It’s important we do the same for our cats, even if they normally roam. They may yowl and paw at the door, but freezing temperatures can drop their temperature surprisingly fast.

If your dog has to be outside, make sure that they have a warm, dry, and draft-free place to stay. Ideally it would be a few inches off the ground, and large enough to be comfortable, but small enough to stay warm. Hang a blanket or sheet over the entrance to cut down on wind.

Cold weather also saps a pet’s energy so be sure they have plenty of food and water. Make sure the water doesn’t turn to ice and use plastic or ceramic food and water bowls. In a freeze, an animal’s tongue can stick to metal.

6. Bundle your pets up and keep them dry

Wind affects our pets just like it does us. Exposed skin on noses or feet pads can frostbite so pay attention to any exposed areas. If it’s damp, keep your pets dry. Freezing water can cause painful damage their feet.

7. If you see something, say something.

If you see an animal left outside, politely let the owners know you’re worried about them. Many people are genuinely unaware of the potential harm that can come to their pets.


Michael Lewis

Former Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center

Find Out More