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Freezing weather and your pets...know the rules

'There are standards of care under the Ontario SPCA Act that speak to ensuring that dogs have an elevated and insulated dog house if they're to be outside. But not all dogs use them, so people have to be mindful that they need to be brought in' Nicole Driscoll Ontario SPCA Inspector

The extreme cold weather has resulted in the North Bay and District Humane Society, responding to calls from the public, worried about the well-being of pets left outdoors, for what they considered to be extended periods of time. 

"We've had a few calls of concern come in primarily for dogs left outside in the extreme weather. Thankfully not as many as perhaps some would think," said Ontario SPCA Inspector, Nicole Driscoll, 

"Of the ones that have been reported to us, by the time we arrived, the dogs have been back inside.The ones that I have attended to, the concerns were that the dog was outside and of course it being -30, people were concerned that the animals were cold, said Driscoll.

"There are standards of care under the Ontario SPCA Act that speak to ensuring that dogs have an elevated and insulated dog house if they're to be outside. But of course more importantly, is for people to ensure that their animals are inside where it is warm. Even if the dog has access to an appropriate dog house, not all dogs will use them. A lot of dogs will sit in front of their dog house lifting their paws and shivering. And if that is the case, people have to be mindful that they need to come in."  

See what the OSPCA has to say here.

Dr. Hailey Bertrand, a veterinarian at Parkside Animal Hospital in North Bay, points out every dog is different when it comes to how well it tolerates the cold.

"Most of the time, if they have a lot of long fur, and different breeds determine how much body fat they have and in what places, like your huskies, your malamutes, your northern breeds, they tolerate cold better because of their fat distribution, and fur and skin. A lot of them have very thick skin," explained Bertrand.

"My dog is a whippet. They're bred for racing and to be super lean, so the cold obviously gets to them way faster than other breeds. Age plays a role as well. Older pets are a little more susceptible, and your very young are also quite susceptible to the cold. Some of the smaller dogs with a little bit thicker skin and longer fur, some of them do well in the cold, but others don't. I think with those it depends on how much exposure they've had and how used to it they are. The dogs that are low to the ground and getting cold and getting salt on them, makes it worse too."   

As Bertrand explains, cold weather may also worsen some medical conditions in dogs, such as arthritis.

"We especially find it happens when it is damp and cold, but the cold for sure. A lot of times they are not as active, and they're sleeping more because it is cold and they can't go outside. It causes stiffening in their joints, they're not as loose, they're not as mobile. The cold causes everybody to tense up and that isn't helpful for arthritis," said Bertrand.  

"Dogs with heart disease have lower circulation, their blood flow isn't as good, they're more at risk of their extremities getting cold faster. Kidney diseased dogs may have variations in blood volume, it is the same sort of situation, so you have to be really careful with those guys."   

Pet owners are advised to watch for signs of hypothermia, and any signals your dog might give off, showing it is uncomfortable in the cold.  

"The minute they start lifting their paws, indicating their paws are cold, they need to be picked up and carried inside. You need to check for frostbite. Right now I wouldn't have a dog out for more than five minutes. If it is minus 30 and I'm not happy out there, neither are they."

Paws should also be checked for signs of frostbite.

"They look red, chapped, and sometimes they'll look a little bit white in colour as well with really bad frostbite. And they'll usually be tender and a lot of dogs will be licking at them. Once they're further along with the frostbite, once the cold has killed off the tissues, then some of that tissue will come off and it will be bleeding and cracking, but not the very first sign."   

Dogs may find themselves walking in road salt, or even picking up some anti-freeze on their paws or fur. Bertrand advises wiping down your pet when it gets back into the house, so it doesn't lick some of these toxic chemicals. 

"You certainly can wash the paws off with warm water when they come inside from a walk where they might have been exposed to salt. Salt is an irritant and they shouldn't be allowed to lick if off their feet or legs. Anti-freeze is a horrible toxicity in dogs and cats."

And that grinch fur growing between their toes can become a source of irritation due to a build up of ice and snow. 

"If they're getting snowballs, we'll often recommend they get a little trim of their feet. The thing is you have to be really careful because I've seen a lot of owners cut their dogs by accident. So we usually use a clipper or a groomer to do it. You don't want to shave it down completely, because then the cold can get at their feet easier."

When it comes to dressing dogs for the elements, Bertrand says if the animal tolerates wearing something on its feet or torso, go for it.

" I do like them especially for the short-haired guys, even just to keep the wind from them. It's tough to keep clothes on them, especially boots are tough to keep on, but a lot of dogs will wear them, and if they will, then that's better than nothing for sure."