Cold Weather Pet Care

The frigid temperatures that coincide with Alberta winters can be dangerous for your pet. If you own or are caring for companion animals, you need to take extra precautions to protect them from the extreme cold. The best place for your pet is inside, except when you take it outside for exercise or if it 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 some simple ways you can help keep pets safe and comfortable during the winter months:

Provide Extra Food

Animals that spend time outdoors in the winter require extra food to give them the necessary energy to stay warm.

Give Liquid Water

Ensure their water remains unfrozen by frequently replacing the water or using a heated bowl. Avoid metal bowls that tongues can stick and freeze to.

Have a Proper Dog House

A dog house 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 and has proper bedding. Straw is better than blankets, which soak up moisture that then turns to ice. Finally, the house should be turned away from the wind, or have an L-shaped entrance to reduce wind chill.

Watch Closely When Your Pet Is Outdoors

If you let your pets outdoors to do their business, 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.

Wash the Pads of Their Paws

Pets that go outside can pick up rock salt, ice and chemicals on their foot pads. After a walk, wipe your pet’s paws with a washcloth. This will keep their pads from getting chapped and will also prevent inflammation of the digestive tract that may result from licking the salt.

Trim Excess Hair on Their Paws

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. If you are uncomfortable trimming the hair yourself, visit a professional dog groomer.

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.

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.

Is Your Pet 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.

Report Neglected Animals

If you suspect an animal is being left outside for too long without proper protection from the elements, report it.

If you have any questions about cold-weather precautions for your pet, ask your veterinarian—your vet knows your animal’s specific conditions and will be able to help you.