Protect your pet from dangerous winter hazards - BC SPCA
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Protect your pet from dangerous winter hazards

December 20, 2022

As temperatures begin to drop below freezing around the province, we are sharing our top tips on how to keep your pet safe in winter conditions.

Salt on sidewalks

Guardians should watch for the salt or sand used on sidewalks as it can get between your dog’s paw pads or toes. Salt and sand are irritating to paw pads and can result in sore paws and dermatitis if not wiped off. The salt and sand can also cause issues if our furry friends lick or ingest it during or after a walk. These products can irritate the mouth and can cause stomach upset and electrolyte imbalances if ingested. 

  • Paw pads: Dry your pet’s paw pads 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. It’s also important to walk slowly and carefully when conditions are icy or slippery because, like humans, your canine companion can slip and injure themselves.
  • Stay inside: Consider fun activities inside if it’s too cold to be out and about with your dog.
  • Antifreeze beware: Use pet-safe, propylene glycol-based antifreeze instead of ethylene glycol-based antifreeze, which is toxic to wildlife and pets and has a sweet taste which attracts animals. A mere tablespoon of antifreeze made with ethylene glycol can kill a cat or small dog. There are great options for animal-friendly antifreeze that has anti-corrosive properties, is biodegradable and is 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 and paws, so in extreme cold, animals should only be outside for very short periods of time. If your dog or cat is comfortable wearing them, guardians may want to think about getting their pet a winter jacket or covering, or even shoes and/or booties to help protect their paws. Your pet doesn’t understand that a coat or booties will help protect them, so start getting your pet used to them before they need them. Speak to an Animalkind trainer if you need help. 

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

  • They have pale grey or blueish skin
  • Pain and swelling in the area
  • The 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 your dog’s paws or other frostbitten areas in a bowl of lukewarm water (cats often get frostbite on their ears) – test it with your hand first and make sure it’s warm to the touch but not too hot. Do not use dry heat, such as a hairdryer or heating pad on the dog. Pat the dog dry and make sure not to rub or massage the frostbitten area.
  • Take them to the vet: When the dog starts to warm up their frostbitten paws can become red and painful. Your local vet may give your dog pain medication to help keep your pet comfortable during the healing process. If the frostbite is more severe, the dog may require antibiotics to prevent a secondary bacterial skin infection.
  • Caution: Do not try to warm up the dog 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 domestic 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.

Additional Resources

“Think & Thump” this winter to save animal lives

Is antifreeze toxic to animals? What is the alternative?

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