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Keeping pets warm in cold weather


Max, a Bernese mountain dog, loves the snow. To see more pet photos and videos, click on Max.
Max, a Bernese mountain dog, loves the snow. To see more pet photos and videos, click on Max.

Jill Colton, staff writer

Freezing cold temperatures and snowy conditions can be dangerous for pets. Care must be taken to ensure your animal stays warm and comfortable during the frigid winter months.

Dogs can safely play outside until the temperature dips past the minus teens
Dogs can safely play outside until the temperature dips past the minus teens

It's been a bitterly cold winter for much of the country and it's not over yet. That's why it's important for pet owners to take the proper precautions to keep their animals snug and safe throughout chilly periods.

When it comes to managing your pet's health, a good place to start is looking at your dog or cat as an individual. “You have to know your pet and the environment that you live in. For instance, if you lived in Florida your pet probably couldn't handle weather below -5°C for more than a few minutes. You really have to look at the breed and observe,” explains Dr. Gary Landsberg, a veterinarian behaviourist who has been practicing for more than 30 years.

According to Dr. Landsberg, the dangerous weather threshold for outdoor play is around -10°C to -15°C no matter what kind of breed you have.

Although certain sled dogs can remain outside for hours, not all dogs fare as well in the snow. “Breeds with short hair, smaller breeds and breeds that aren't used to spending time outside are usually more susceptible to the cold conditions.”

It's very important as a pet owner to recognize the telltale signs that your dog or cat needs to come inside. “Look at their feet, see if they're starting to walk on three paws. It's important to be with your pet outdoors so you can observe shaking or stopping of movement. Extreme signs can include frostbite on the tips of the ears or discoloured paws.”

Another way to protect your pet against the frigid air is to bundle them up in warm clothing. “Depending on the breed (particularly short hairs), it's not a bad idea to consider a sweater, vest or booties.” However, Dr. Landsberg warns that not all pets will take kindly to clothing. He says you may have to spend several days or weeks training your animal to accept this practice.

Cats also love to spend time outside in the snow.
Cats also love to spend time outside in the snow.

Not only do booties keep your dog insulated, they can also guard against rough road salt. These pellets can stick in between your pet's paws, making it uncomfortable to walk or irritating for the animal in general. Dr. Landsberg says it can be difficult to remove these chunks of ice or salt but a basin of water will likely do the trick. “Get a bucket of lukewarm water (size of the bowl depends on the dog) and soak your pet's feet until all the salt comes off or the ice melts.”

If you discover that your pet has become chilled, Dr. Landsberg recommends treating your pet like you would a young child or baby. “If your dog is small enough, wrap it in a big towel or blanket and cuddle it and dry it off as thoroughly as possible. When the animal wants to play and move around again, that's when you'll know everything is back to normal.”

Dr. Landsberg offers these other tips for keeping your pet safe in cold weather.

  • Do not leave your animal alone, unsupervised in cold weather.
  • Make sure to check the weather and find out if there's a cold weather alert in your area.
  • Don't leave your pet in a cold vehicle.
  • Observe your pet for any cold-related symptoms.
  • Keep your pet active when they're outside. They're likely to maintain normal body temperature this way.

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