When the temperature drops and snow begins to fall, we prepare for winter by getting out boots, coats and mitts. We also need to think about how we can ensure our pets are warm and safe in cold weather.
Fur isn’t flawless
Many people think that because their pets have fur coats, they’re ‘fine’ when left outside in the cold. Experts say this is not true. In biting cold, harsh winds or numbing wetness, your pet’s fur coat is no guarantee against the winter chill. If his fur gets wet, it loses much of its insulating ability. If he has short fur, protection is minimal at best. Regardless of a pet’s breed or coat type, they need proper shelter from the elements.
If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet
Stand at the door without your coat. If it’s too cold for you, bring your pet inside. Like people, pets can get frostbite and hypothermia. All pets, even those who live mainly outdoors, should be kept indoors in below-freezing weather or strong wind chill.
Know your pet’s limits
Some pets (short-coated, short-legged, seniors) are more susceptible to cold, so limit the time they’re outside when it’s below freezing. If your pet is outdoors for more than a few minutes, consider a coat and booties to keep him warm. But remember that coats won’t prevent frostbite. Pay attention to your pet’s behaviour outdoors — if he shivers, whines or raises his paws, bring him inside immediately.
Beware hypothermia and frostbite
Some breeds have a higher tolerance for cold, but all pets are at risk if they’re outside too long. Know the signs of hypothermia; Shivering, weakness or shallow breathing. Watch for signs of frostbite on nose, ears, tail and paws; Pale grey skin that turns red/puffy or shrivels, pain when touched. If you suspect either condition, wrap your pet in a warm blanket and call your vet immediately.
Pay attention to paws
Trim the fur that grows between your pet’s pads to prevent painful ice build-up. Check paws for signs of cracks or bleeding. His feet and belly can pick up toxic chemicals including salt, antifreeze, windshield fluid or de-icers, so wipe his paws and underside after being outside. If ignored, these chemicals can burn his skin and are deadly if swallowed even in small amounts. Wipe up spills quickly and store chemicals out of reach. If you think your pet has ingested any of these substances, call your vet immediately.
Adjust your pet’s exercise routine
On cold days, take short walks only. Older dogs may have difficulty walking on snow and ice, and arthritis is aggravated by the cold. Walking in wooded areas can protect your pet from harsh winds. Never let your dog off-leash in a storm and ensure he has current ID should you become separated. If it’s too cold to go out, give your pet an indoor workout with interactive toys, food puzzles, tug-of-war or fetch.
Recognize dangers posed by cars
Never leave your pet alone in a cold car. Cars act like refrigerators and pets can freeze to death. Cats may seek shelter and warmth under your car’s hood. Before starting the engine, tap the hood or toot the horn to scare any sleeping cat away and prevent serious injury.
Avoid frozen rivers/lakes
The ice may not support your pet’s weight and if he breaks through, it could be fatal. Both your lives could be in danger if you try to rescue him.
Keep your pet cozy
Ensure your pet has a warm bed to sleep in, raised off the cold floor and away from drafts.
Speak up for pets in distress
Nova Scotia’s Animal Protection Act contains penalties for failing to protect an animal from injurious cold. If you suspect or witness an animal suffering in the cold, please call the SPCA confidentially (1-888-703-7722; 902-835-4798) or file a confidential online complaint at www.spcans.ca.
Please show your pets you love them by caring for them responsibly this winter.
Judy Layne lives in Hackett’s Cove with her husband and their two adopted pets. A lifelong animal lover, Judy is a volunteer with the NS SPCA.