Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

10 Common Winter Pet Hazards

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If your pet is experiencing respiratory distress or seizures caused by a toxin or persistent non-productive retching, these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!

If your pet is experiencing severe symptoms of hypothermia, this is considered a “RED” – or true emergency – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!

  • Wrap a warm blanket around your pet and turn on the heat in the car while transporting your pet to the vet.
  • DO NOT use heating pads or hot water bottles on your pets; they can cause burns.
  • If your pet experiences frostbite, avoid touching or aggressively heating the area. Instead, use lukewarm water to slowly re-warm the affected spot as you transport your pet to the vet.
  • Please note if your pet is stable, bright and alert, up and walking, your pet’s status will not be considered “RED” and our team will help assess your pet’s symptoms and determine your pet’s status over the phone.

If you witnessed or strongly suspect your pet ate or was topically exposed to a toxin, these are considered “ORANGE ” – or urgent cases – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend calling ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for help determining if your pet consumed a toxic amount and for guidance on what to do next. If veterinary care is advised, call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital ahead of your arrival.

Please see our Fast Track Triage chart at the end of this blog for more symptoms and their corresponding triage color codes.


From cold weather to holiday dangers to seasonal toxins, there are a number of pet dangers to be aware of this time of year! Review our list of the most common winter pet hazards to hopefully avoid a trip to our ER this winter!

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1. The Cold 

In Minnesota, it can get pretty chilly! Prevent hypothermia and/or frostbite by keeping pets inside at night and on very cold days. Possible exceptions to this rule include dogs who are built for the cold like huskies or Great Pyrenees. For winter walking, dress pets in appropriate winter gear and protect those paws! If your winter jam is ice fishing with your dog, take extra precaution on the ice 

Have a higher-risk pet or prefer to stay on the couch? We’ve got you covered with indoor exercises and enrichment!

2. Hand Warmers 

Hand warmers can contain toxic ingredients such as iron powder. If your pet ingests one, they can experience abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, rapid heart rate, panting, lethargy, shock, and/or tremors. If you use hand warmers, keep them out of your pet’s reach, and don’t leave them coat pockets! 

3. Medications & Supplements 

Medications and supplements are one of the most common causes for pet toxicities. From prescriptions to over-the-counter cold medicines to supplements like Vitamin D, there are a variety of potential symptoms that can be quite severe. Pro tip: when removing a medication from a bottle, do it over a counter or table to avoid dropping anything on the floor. 

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4. Antifreeze 

There are three different types of antifreeze solutions on the market: methanol, propylene glycol, and ethylene glycol. All three can be toxic to your pets, but ethylene glycol is the most lethal. Store antifreeze products in an area that’s been secured against pets and leave your pet inside the house when using antifreeze, in case of a spill.  

5. Rodenticides 

There are four main kinds of rodenticides: anti-coagulants, neurotoxins, vitamin overdoses, and zinc phosphide. All of these can be very dangerous to your pets. Seek immediate care so your veterinary team can induce vomiting. If you use rodenticides, be cognizant of where it is placed and don’t bring your pet along to check for rodents.    

Note: We DO NOT recommend using rodenticides due to the suffering they cause, as well as potential exposure to pets and wildlife. 

6. Batteries & Electrical Cords 

From holiday decorations to toys to those Black Friday deals, new electronics may abound at this time of year. But it’s important to keep pets safe! If a pet punctures an Alkaline battery, the acidic material can cause severe burns to the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Pets who tend to chew on cords may experience burns or can even be electrocuted from frayed wires. Keep battery-operated items out of your pet’s reach and help limit exposed wires by taping them down or using short extension cords. When you aren’t able to supervise your pet around cords, power down the items – especially the Christmas tree!  

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7. Potpourri/Essential Oils 

Liquid potpourri contains cationic detergents that can cause severe chemical burns in the mouth, as well as fever, difficulty breathing, and tremors. Solid potpourri can also be toxic and cause an intestinal blockage if swallowed. Essential oils can cause allergic reactions when topically applied to pets, as well as respiratory issues when diffused (especially for pet birds.) Additionally, there are several essential oils that are toxic to pets such as Pennyroyal Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Wintergreen, Pine Oil, cinnamon, peppermint, and sweet birch.  

8. Winter Plants 

Many different plants and flowers are toxic to pets. Some symptoms only cause mild GI upset, while other symptoms can be much more severe. During winter, more common holiday plants include true lilies which can cause life-threatening kidney damage in cats and yew which can cause tremors, respiratory distress, and seizures. Amaryllis, holly, and mistletoe are also toxic! Before bringing any plants or flowers into your home, check that they aren’t toxic to your pets by identifying them with the Plant Snap App and then looking them up on ASPCA’s Toxic & Non-Toxic Plant Guide. 

9. Holiday Décor & Gift Wrap 

Many holidays, like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, utilize decorations that can pose a threat to pets. Some of the most common dangers are candles, glass ornaments, ornament hooks, salt dough ornaments, small embellishments like artificial cranberries, bells, or glittery snowballs, dreidels, and snow globes that contain antifreeze. Additionally, ribbon, tinsel, and string for décor or gifts can cause an intestinal obstruction if swallowed. When in doubt, place decorations out of your pet’s reach or opt for something safer like plastic ornaments and flameless candles. 

10. Baking Ingredients and Holiday Foods/Gifts 

If you love to bake or host holiday meals, beware of these common holiday foods and ingredients that are toxic or hazardous to pets: yeast dough, chocolate, xylitol (often found in gum, pudding, and sugar-free baked goods and candy), nutmeg (found in gingerbread and pumpkin pie), macadamia nuts, fruitcake with grapes, raisins, and/or Zante currants, alliums (onions, garlic, leeks, and chives), meat bones, corn on the cob, ham (can often cause pancreatitis), caffeine, and alcohol. Keep your pet out of the kitchen or dining area and if you do share any human foods, only give your dog a small quantity of plain food (no butter or seasoning) that you are 100% sure is non-toxic and non-hazardous! If you are baking homemade treats for your pets, triple-check that you are using pet-friendly ingredients  

Also, if your dog tends to get into the trash can – make sure you pet-proof and place it in a secure cabinet to prevent your pet from getting tremorgenic mycotoxin poisoning.   

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We hope you and your pets have a safe holiday season & winter. If your pet does experience an emergency this winter, our Oakdale and St. Paul ERs are open 24/7, every day of the year. Always call before your arrival.

More Reading: 

Janine Hagen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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