5 common winter illnesses for pets

Household 2 min read

Just like humans, animals are prone to getting sick in the cold winter months. Below are five of the most common illnesses, what you can do to prevent them, and the best course of treatment should they be unavoidable.


  • What is hypothermia? Low body temperature caused by exposure to cold.
  • Cause: Extended exposure to cold weather and especially wet fur that freezes.
  • Prevention: Limit the amount of time spent outside during the winter months, protect your animal’s paws with booties, and consider a sweater or jacket to help keep them warm.
  • Symptoms: Shivering, lethargy, listlessness.
  • Treatment: Swaddle them in warm blankets, with a hot water bottle, and go to the vet as soon as possible.


  • What is frostbite? Tissue damage, usually to the extremities.
  • Cause: Extended exposure to cold temperatures, snow, and ice.
  • Prevention: Just like with hypothermia, you want to limit the amount of time spent outside during the winter months, protect your animal’s paws with booties, and consider a sweater or jacket to help keep them warm.
  • Symptoms: First degree frostbite exhibits as pale, hard skin on their fingers, toes, and nose that becomes red and swollen when warm. Second degree leads to blisters on their skin, and third degree is a darkening of the skin over time, making gangrene a risk.
  • Treatment: Apply warm water to affected areas, contact your vet immediately, do NOT massage, painkillers, and antibiotics.

Antifreeze poisoning

  • What is antifreeze poisoning? One of the most common forms of poisoning in household pets.
  • Cause: When animals lick or drink antifreeze.
  • Prevention: Keep all antifreeze in a locked cabinet away from curious animals, clean up any spills, consider alternate solutions to winterizing pipes, and protect animals’ paws when walking outside.
  • Symptoms: Unsteady gait, nausea, vomiting, delirium, euphoria, excessive urination, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, depression, weakness, and seizures.
  • Treatment: Call your vet immediately.


  • What is arthritis? Chronic inflammation and pain in the joints.
  • Cause: An unstable joint causes the surrounding bones to move abnormally. Over time this erodes the cartilage, which means that bones rub against bones, leading to inflammation and pain.
  • Prevention: Make sure your pet maintains a healthy weight and consider speaking to your vet about a therapeutic diet.
  • Symptoms: Limping, “slowing down,” difficulty getting into and out of the litter box, and grooming excessively.
  • Treatment: Steroids, NSAIDs, and other painkillers.

Kennel cough

  • What is kennel cough? A highly contagious respiratory infection.
  • Cause: A bacteria and/or virus.
  • Prevention: Quarantine pets with kennel cough, ask your vet about the kennel cough vaccine, and consider having someone pet sit your dog at home instead of boarding.
  • Symptoms: A honking-like cough, sneezing, runny nose, and eye discharge.
  • Treatment: A humidifier or steam treatment; if it persists, visit the vet for antibiotics.

This isn’t to say that you should live in fear of your animal getting sick. But, as they say, forewarned is forearmed! Just as we take precautionary measures with our own health (read: flu shots), we should take the same precautions with our beloved pets.

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