Protect your pet against harmful winter conditions - BC SPCA
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Protect your pet against harmful winter conditions

January 12, 2024

As winter temperatures drop below freezing around the province, many safety issues begin to surface. Learn how to protect your furry family member from seasonal threats.

Salt on sidewalks

Watch for the salt or sand used on sidewalks, which can get between your dog’s paw pads or toes. Salt and sand irritate the skin and can result in sore paws and dermatitis if not wiped off. If ingested, these products can also irritate the mouth and cause stomach upset and electrolyte imbalances.

  • Paw pads: Keep your dog from licking their feet after a walk! Dry their feet after being outside and clean between their toes and pads.
  • Sidewalks: For your own sidewalk, choose a pet-friendly, non-corrosive de-icing compound readily available through retail outlets. Walking slowly and carefully when conditions are icy or slippery is important because, like humans, your canine companions can slip and injure themselves.
  • Stay inside: Consider fun indoor activities if it’s too cold to be outdoors with your dog.
  • Antifreeze alert: Most antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is toxic to  wildlife and pets. A mere tablespoon can kill a cat or small dog! Use propylene glycol-based antifreeze instead. It’s animal-friendly, anti-corrosive, biodegradable and recyclable. Learn more about antifreeze safety.

Protection from frostbite

Dogs may have fur coats, but some aren’t very thick. They get cold and can suffer from exposure, just like humans. Cats and dogs are particularly vulnerable to frostbite on the tips of their ears, tails and paws, so in extreme cold, animals should only be outside for very short periods of time.

If your dog is comfortable wearing them, you may want to get them a winter jacket, covering, or even shoes and/or booties to help protect their paws. Because your dog doesn’t understand that a coat or booties will help protect them, start getting them used to these items before they need them. The best way to do this is to create a positive association using treats — an AnimalKind trainer can help with this.

Puppies and older dogs may find it more difficult to control their body temperature. Dogs with heart disease or diabetes are also at a greater risk of getting frostbite because these conditions reduce blood flow to their extremities. The cold can also aggravate existing health conditions, such as arthritis in older dogs, who should be monitored closely or kept indoors.

Frostbite signs

  • Pale grey or blueish skin
  • Pain and swelling in the area
  • Skin feels cold, brittle and may be painful
  • Blisters or skin ulcers
  • Areas of blackened or dead skin

Symptoms of hypothermia

  • Shivering
  • Pale or grey gums
  • Lethargy
  • Stumbling or lack of coordination

Treatment for frostbite

  • Warm them up: Place the animal’s paws or other frostbitten areas (like ears or tails) in a bowl of lukewarm water. Test it with your hand first and ensure it’s warm to the touch but not too hot. Do not use dry heat, such as a hairdryer or heating pad on the animal. Pat them dry; do not rub or massage the frostbitten area.
  • Take them to the vet: When the animal starts to warm up, their frostbitten paws can become red and painful. Your local vet may give pain medication to help keep the animal comfortable while healing. If the frostbite is more severe, they may require antibiotics to prevent a secondary bacterial skin infection.
  • Caution: Do not try to warm up the animal if you are not close to home unless you can keep the area warm. The area can refreeze and cause more damage.

Note: The BC SPCA strongly urges guardians to keep all animals indoors during cold weather. If you must keep pets or farm animals outside, ensure they have access to shelter that is off the ground, provides protection from wind, cold and dampness, and is properly insulated.

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