British Columbia

'This kind of weather, it's fatal': How to help pets through bitter cold snap

Large dumps of snow and extreme cold warnings for most of the province mean it's not safe for pets to be left outside for long periods of time. Here are some ways you can help protect them and keep their minds stimulated indoors.

Environment Canada has issued extreme cold warnings across central and northern Interior

Giving your dog a coat to wear can help keep them warm during a short walk when it's below –10 C. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Large dumps of snow and extreme cold warnings for most of the province mean that it's not safe for pets to be left outside for long periods of time.

Animal shelters, such as the Humane Society in Prince George, B.C., are looking for more foster homes to help keep pets warm.

"As we're seeing the temperature drop over the next week, we're seeing an influx of animals coming from communities where animals have little or no access to shelter," said executive director Angela McLaren.

The society is running out of space to keep all of the dogs and cats inside, which is necessary when Prince George is currently temperatures and wind that feel like –40 C.

Wash your dog's paws after a walk to make sure they don't have any anti-freeze or other dangerous chemicals on them, said McLaren. (Josh Pagé/CBC)

On Monday morning, the Humane Society took in three dogs and one cat. By day's end, they'd also taken in a pot-bellied pig.

"We anticipate that those numbers are going to rise over the next couple of days," said McLaren.

Unless your pet has a raised, insulated and heated shelter, she said it's "really dangerous" to leave them outdoors.

"This kind of weather, it's fatal." 

Tips to protect your pet outside

Whenever temperatures hit below –10 C, McLaren recommends paying close attention to your pets.

"We're encouraging people to be very cognizant of their animals," she said.

While some dogs, such as huskies and Pyrenees, generally love to be in the snow, it's important to limit how long they are outside and to check their paws when they come back in.

Anti-freeze and de-icing materials can be lethal to pets, so McLaren recommends wiping your dogs' paws when you come in from a walk. 

You may also want to spread the pads of their toes to get out any snow clumps that can cause irritation, added Sean Hogan, branch manager for the Kelowna BCSPCA.

Sometimes cats like to find shelter underneath the hood of a car when they are really cold, says Kelowna BCSPCA branch manager Sean Hogan. (Nicole Oud/CBC)

Both Hogan and McLaren also recommend giving dogs booties and coats to wear in the snow. 

If you have a cat that likes to sneak outside, make sure you check your car and make some noise before driving. Sometimes cats climb into engines or wheel wells to stay warm.

For barn animals, Hogan recommends providing a heat source and heated water dishes so that their water doesn't freeze.

Indoor games

And while pets can go a bit stir crazy without getting their regular exercise outside, there are ways to keep their minds stimulated indoors, said Prince George dog trainer, Cassie Young.

Young specializes in the sport of canine scent training, which is an activity based on the kind of training working dogs get for drug and bomb detection.

That's advanced training, but Young recommends anyone can start by hiding treats or toys around the house, and letting the dog use its nose to seek them out.

"In the winter time, especially in our environment ... it's the perfect activity because you can pick this game that you teach your dog and play it right in your living room at home," she said.

"It provides mental enrichment, mental stimulation ... [and] for your dogs that's really going to help tire them out and just take the edge off." 

She estimates that 10 minutes of scent work for a dog is equivalent to 45 minutes of running around outside in terms of stimulation.

From warm boots to indoor games, when -30 C temperatures roll around it's important to keep pets bundled up and occupied. We get tips from experts. 7:59

With files from Andrew Kurjata, Nicole Oud, Daybreak North and Daybreak South

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