Protect your pets from winter cold

Peggy Revell

As the snow piles up and the wind chill brings temperatures to dangerous lows, it’s important the safety of our furry little pet friends isn’t forgotten during the winter season.
Like any time of the year, pet safety in the winter months comes down to a food, shelter, and comfort issue, said local veterinarian Dr. Dan Pierroz of the Nor-West Animal Clinic here.
“Basically what you want to do if they’re outdoors is make sure they have a good insulated dog house, out of the wind, warm blankets, things that you’ve probably already got,” he noted.
“Fresh water periodically and a good food source because they’ll need more energy to stay warm,” Dr. Pierroz added, noting a lot of outside doghouses are now heated, and that many dogs on a sunny day even will pull their blanket out of the doghouse and lay on the snow.
The Ontario SPCA recommends that if a dog is staying outdoors, at minimum provide a dry, draft-free shelter that is elevated, has bedding materials, and is made from weatherproof materials.
Metal dishes should be avoided to prevent a dog’s tongue from sticking to the surface, and owners also should ensure the drinking water doesn’t freeze.
Providing adequate shelter and care for pets is mandatory under Canadian law.
“If you’re walking them, you may have to go to protective booties and jackets, of course,” Dr. Pierroz advised for protection from the cold.
“Certainly the longer-haired, heavier-coated dogs are at less risk,” he conceded. “But leaving them out in cold weather at 20-below is certainly, I don’t think, acceptable for any length of time.”
It’s tough to put a timeframe on how much cold is too much, said Dr. Pierroz, although conscientious owners will be able to recognize when their pets need to be brought inside for warmth.
As for cats, he noted frostbite in the ears is a potential risk in this weather, so it’s important they aren’t left outside for too long, either.
For those pets unfortunate enough to get frostbite, Dr. Pierroz recommended gentle care.
“We would just tend to warm that [area] up slowly and not do a lot of rubbing, just very gentle massages,” he explained.
But the freezing cold isn’t the only danger pets can face during the winter months.
“Antifreeze is always an issue. If there’s some antifreeze that’s leaked out of a car where a cat could get it, that kind of thing,” Dr. Pierroz warned.
According to the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, for a cat weighing seven pounds or less, even one teaspoon of antifreeze can be deadly. And for a dog weighing 20 pounds or less, less than one tablespoon can be lethal.
Antifreeze isn’t the only dangerous compound, the OSPCA warns, since salt and other snow-melting chemicals used on roads and sidewalks can hurt a pet’s paws or make them sick if ingested.
The OSPCA also recommends people take care when starting up their car as cats have been known to seek warmth under the hood.
Preventable winter-time injuries are another thing Dr. Pierroz has seen—and recommends people be wary about.
“Often times what we end up with in the winter is when people are walking their dog, if they don’t have them on a leash, then they jump up over the snowbank and get hit by a car,” he said.
“The other thing is certainly around snowmachines because we’ve dealt with several dogs that have had legs broken,” he noted. “They get hit by a snowmachine or the machine will cut the leg.
“Another thing would be is we’ve had dogs injured that are out cross-country skiing with their owners, and they actually get the skis caught on the foot,” Dr. Pierroz added. “So they have to be pretty cautious about those type of things.”
And while he admits it may not be popular advice to take for people in this area, Dr. Pierroz would like to see dogs out of the back of half-ton trucks whether it’s summer or winter.