Dogs and cats at risk in freezing weather, vets warn

Owners of dogs and cats on the south coast of British Columbia are urged to take extra precautions to protect their four-legged family members from the effects of freezing temperatures this week.

Veterinarians warn that cold weather can affect a pet’s health in many ways, including the risk of developing frostbite or hypothermia.

“It is a common belief that they are more resistant to the cold than people because of their fur, but that is not true,” Dr. Lauren Adelman said in a press release from Canada West Veterinary Specialists, a Vancouver veterinary hospital.

Canada West said an animal’s tolerance to cold depends on several factors, including body fat stores and overall health. The hospital warned that arthritic and elderly animals may find it difficult to navigate icy surfaces, which could lead them to slip and fall.

Dogs and cats with diabetes, heart disease and a number of other conditions may also be more sensitive to low temperatures.

“Some dogs bred for colder climates, like huskies, are more cold tolerant. But they still shouldn’t be kept outside for long periods when it’s below zero,” Adelman said. “Cats should be kept indoors.”

Pet owners are also warned to be wary of antifreeze, which tastes sweet but is deadly to pets. Canada West veterinary specialists have recommended washing dogs’ feet, paws and bellies after a walk in case they come into contact with antifreeze or other dangerous chemicals.

“Dogs can be trained to go into a small tub of water with soap and vinegar to wash salt and chemicals off their paws,” Adelman said. “A little extra attention can mean the difference between pets staying safe in the cold season or spending time in a veterinary hospital.

Adelman urged any owners who notice symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia in their pet — including sluggishness, confusion and severe chills — to contact a veterinarian.