The frigid temperatures of Alberta winters can be dangerous for your pet. The best place for your pet is inside, except when it is taken outside for exercise or is a breed of dog capable of surviving outdoor weather. Even long-haired dogs that are accustomed to being outside need extra precautions when the temperature plummets. Here are 10 simple ways you can help keep pets safe and comfortable over the winter.
1. Provide extra food: Animals that spend time outdoors in the winter require extra food to give them the energy they need to stay warm.
2. Give liquid water: Ensure their water remains unfrozen by frequently replacing the water or use a heated bowl. Avoid metal bowls that tongues can stick and freeze to.
3. Have a proper doghouse: A doghouse needs to be the right size for your animal — just big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around, allowing the dog to retain its body heat. Make sure the doghouse is sturdy with proper bedding (straw is better than blankets which soak up water that then turns to ice). Finally, the house should be turned away from the wind to minimize the draft.
4. Keep a close eye on your pet when it’s outside: If your pets go outdoors, keep a close eye on them. Pets that are not acclimatized to the cold weather may not be able to tolerate the frosty temperatures — even for short periods of time. Watch your pets to ensure they aren’t showing signs of discomfort or distress while outdoors.
5. Wash the pads of your pets’ feet: Pets that go outside can pick up ice and chemicals on their foot pads. After coming inside, wipe the feet of your pet with a washcloth. This will keep their pads from getting chapped.
6. Trim the excess hair on your pet’s toes: Sometimes ice pellets will form in the hair between your dog’s toes causing discomfort when they walk outside. The warmth of their feet causes the snow to cling to these hairs, melt, refreeze and allow for more snow to accumulate. Trimming the excess hair between their toes will decrease the development of ice pellets.
7. Be aware of garage dangers: Make sure that all chemicals are properly stored and spills are cleaned up. Be especially careful with antifreeze, which has a sweet taste that attracts both dogs and cats but can be fatal in even small amounts.
8. Practise caution before starting your car: Cats and small wildlife in search of warmth may curl up inside a car engine. Before you turn your engine on, honk the horn or knock on the hood to scare them away.
9. Is your animal especially susceptible?: Animals that are young, old and in poor health are particularly susceptible to the cold. Conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances can compromise a pet’s ability to regulate its own body heat. Animals that are not generally in good health — as well as very young and old animals — shouldn’t be exposed to winter weather for a long period of time.
10. Report neglected animals: If you suspect an animal is being left outside for too long without proper protection from the elements, report it to the Alberta SPCA toll free at 1-800-455-9003.
If you have any questions about cold weather precautions to take with your pet, your veterinarian — who knows your animal’s specific conditions — will be able to help you.