Protect your dogs and cats with these expert winter safety tips.

By Ab Kass

Cold weather can be dangerous for pets. Protect your four-legged friends with these expert winter safety tips.

Bundle Up Even a natural fur coat can't fully ward off the chill. Always provide a warm, dry place for your pet to sleep that's off the ground and away from drafts. A pet bed with an extra blanket will do the trick. Outside, animals with short hair should wear a coat when temperatures drop, advises Camille DeClementi, VMD, senior director and veterinary toxicologist at the ASPCA. It should cover your pet from the neck to the base of the tail.

Protect the Paws Low humidity, salted roads and freezing temperatures can cause dry, cracked paws. DeClementi suggests rubbing a small amount of petroleum jelly on your pet's paw pads to prevent additional irritation. "It's like putting lotion on your hands," she says. Boots are another great option, as long as they fit snugly. You can even find disposable rubber or latex ones for animals that balk at heavier shoes.

Finders Keepers Pets are more likely to get lost in the winter, since excess snow masks smells that help them determine their surroundings. In addition to outfitting your dog or cat with an ID tag, consider having him microchipped. The small, permanent implant helps shelters identify a lost animal and its owners. Unlike collars, a chip can never fall off or go missing. The quick procedure generally costs around $50 at the vet's office.

Tell-Tale Signs It can be tricky to know whether a pet is cold, so keep a close eye on her when she plays outside, says DeClementi. Shivering and decreased activity are both signs of freezing. Redness on the extremities, such as the ears, means she's been outside too long.

Icy Dangers Antifreeze is poisonous to pets. DeClementi recommends this easy cleanup trick: Pour cat litter over any spills to soak up the liquid, then sweep up and dispose of it. Ice-melting products can also irritate animals' skin, or upset their stomach if ingested. Choose a pet-safe variety for outdoor walkways, and always wipe down your pet's paws and belly after walks to remove any chemicals or ice on his fur.

Photo Credit: Cameron Palanjian Sadeghpour