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Keeping Animals Safe this Winter

Annie Hornish

Extreme cold is a hallmark of winter in Connecticut, and there are simple steps you can take to help both companion animals and wildlife.


Helping Companion Animals

In extreme cold, dogs should always be brought inside. If your dogs are outdoors for a length of time, provide a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow them to move comfortably but small enough to hold in body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches from the ground and covered with straw. The doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. Pets should have access to unfrozen water and more food because keeping warm requires more energy. Use plastic food and water bowls; when the temperature is low, your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

All pet cats should be kept indoors in the winter (and year-round ideally), and remember that community (feral) cats in your area also need protection from the elements. You can make your own cat shelter quickly and easily with a plastic storage bin (cut openings for entrances), rigid foam insulation, and straw. Don't use blankets or towels, since they absorb body heat and chill cats who are lying on them.


Horses should have access to a barn or three-sided run-in, access to unfrozen water (heated buckets), and should be fed more forage—unlimited amounts, if possible—during extreme cold to help create heat and regulate body temperature.



Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals, so keep it out of reach. Coolants and antifreeze made with propylene glycol are less toxic to pets and wildlife.


Rock salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can be poisonous. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them.

Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood for warmth and shelter. To avoid injuring any hiding animals, make it a habit of banging on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

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Speak up if you see abuse!

If you encounter a pet left in the cold, politely let the owner know you are concerned. Some people genuinely don’t know the risk that cold weather poses to their pets or livestock and will be quick to correct any problems. But if they respond poorly or continue to neglect their animals, contact law enforcement: per Connecticut’s animal cruelty statutes (CGS 53-247(a)), all animals under our custody must be provided “protection from the weather.” In extreme weather that poses risk to dogs, they cannot be tethered for more than 15 minutes (CGS 22-350a).


Helping Wildlife

You can help wildlife by creating shelters, like brush piles and even your firewood pile by piling your logs in a crisscross fashion in order to create internal spaces that offer small animals some relief from the cold. Providing a heated bird bath can provide essential water for drinking and bathing—a year-round necessity to keep feathers in top flying and insulating shape. When water freezes, birds expend valuable energy and risk dangerous exposure searching for other sources—which might mean the difference between life and death.















Annie Hornish is the Connecticut Senior State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a supporting member Sierra Club Connecticut.

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Heated bird baths can be a lifesaver for our feathered friends, and all you need is a plastic storage tub, foam, and straw to create this simple shelter for feral cats.

Photo credit: Mike McFarland/The HSUS.

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