If it’s too cold for you to go outside, it’s too cold for your pet! Winter’s chill affects animals, just like it affects people. Every year, the Ontario SPCA investigates thousands of complaints about animals left unprotected from winter weather. Exposure to harsh conditions can cause serious illness or death to animals, particularly during periods of freezing rain and rapid temperature fluctuations.
Canada’s laws require that animals receive adequate shelter and care. Wilful failure to provide adequate shelter could lead to prosecution and a fine, jail sentence or prohibition from having custody of animals.
Keep pets warm
When the temperature drops below freezing, pets should not be left outside for extended periods. Cats, short-coated dogs and puppies are particularly vulnerable in cold temperatures. Keep cats indoors and protect your dogs from frostbite or hypothermia by taking them outside for short periods during cold weather. Consider slipping your short-coated dog or puppy into a comfortable dog sweater or coat as an extra layer of warmth. Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. As well, when bathing your dog during winter months, ensure he is completely dry before taking him outside.
Since puppies are generally less tolerant of cold weather than adult dogs, to housetrain your puppy during frigid temperatures put a jacket or sweater on him when you take him outside on leash with you to the designated “toilet” area. Give him a treat as soon as he is done, and then bring him back inside. If he hasn’t shown any signs of needing to “go” after a couple of minutes, bring him inside and supervise to prevent accidents, or crate him (dogs are less likely to soil where they eat or sleep), and then try again a little later.
Avoid car hazards
Never leave your cat or dog alone in a car during cold weather. Cars hold in the cold, acting like refrigerators, which could cause your dog to freeze to death.
Also, be aware of cats seeking warmth under vehicle hoods. When the vehicle motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt. Make a point of knocking on the hood or sounding the horn before starting the engine. This will warn away any cats who may be hiding in your vehicle.
Another danger for pets this time of year is ethylene glycol, which is found in antifreeze and brake fluids and is deadly to all animals. It tastes sweet, so animals may ingest it; a very small amount can be fatal. Emergency veterinary care is essential. Always clean up any spills carefully and dispose of the rags as hazardous waste. Be alert for antifreeze spills when out on walks.
Protect outdoor dogs
Outdoor dogs must be provided adequate shelter and a constant supply of fresh water. While the Ontario SPCA strongly recommends bringing your dog indoors, dogs that live outside require as a minimum a dry, draft-free doghouse soundly built of weatherproof materials with the door facing away from prevailing winds. It should be elevated and insulated, with a door flap and bedding of straw or wood shavings. Check your pet’s water frequently to ensure it’s not frozen and use a tip-resistant plastic or ceramic bowl, rather than metal, to prevent your dog’s tongue sticking to the cold metal surface. There are also heated and/or insulated bowls available that prevent water from freezing. To learn more read Ideal Doghouse for Ontario’s Outdoor Dogs.
Take pet precautions
Use a damp towel to wipe your pet’s paws and underside after being outside. Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice on roads and sidewalks can irritate and burn your pet’s sensitive paws - and can cause injury if ingested. Also, remove ice balls by placing your pet’s feet in warm (not hot) water before drying them off with a towel. Consider using “booties” to protect your pet’s paws.
Don’t let your dog off leash on ice or snow, especially during a snowstorm, as dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost.
Ensure your pet always has a warm place to sleep away from drafts and off the floor. A thick cozy dog or cat bed with a blanket or pillow is great.