September 26, 2023

As the temperatures in Waterloo Region plunge into deep-freeze territory, the cold weather and icy surfaces can be dangerous, not only for humans, but also for animals that are left outside for long periods of time.

Dr. Laurel Gale, veterinary director for the KW Humane Society, said pets can experience hypothermia and frostbite just like humans when exposed to cold temperatures.

“Pets can experience both frostbite and hypothermia similar to humans if exposed,” said Gale. “They can develop frostbite of their exposed tissues, typically seen affecting ears, tails and paws.  They can also develop hypothermia, which can lead to serious damage to internal organs and even death.”

According to the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society, thousands of complaints are received each year about animals left unprotected from winter weather. Exposure to harsh conditions can cause serious illness or death to animals, particularly during periods of freezing rain and extreme temperature fluctuations.

Canada’s laws require that animals receive adequate shelter and care. Failure to provide adequate shelter can lead to prosecution and a fine, jail sentence or prohibition from having custody of animals.

Cold weather safety chart for pets (Source:Petplan)

“People need to provide their animals with their basic needs. If your dog is outside for a long period of time, it has to have a certain standard of shelter and needs to have water all the time,” said Haley Francis, animal control officer at the KW Humane Society. ” An adequate dog house would have to be big enough for the animal to stand up and turn around in, and should be insulated, with at least two walls and insulation between them to keep it warm. It should also have an exterior flap so there isn’t just a big hole.”

The main question that has always been asked is, “How long can I let my dog play outside before they get too cold?” There really is no definitive answer to that question, because every dog is different. Smaller dogs, bigger dogs, puppies and even older dogs can all have different reactions to the cold.

“Smaller dogs will get colder faster, and short-coated dogs will also be less tolerant of the cold.  Heavy coated dogs like huskies will seem to be fine outdoors for longer periods of time,” said Gale. “The easiest way to know when to bring a dog inside is to watch for signs that they are feeling cold, such as shivering or holding their paws up. It would be considered cruel to leave an animal out in conditions they are unable to tolerate based on their size, age, coat, particularly if they don’t have access to shelter.”

During this time of the year, it is important to keep an eye on your pets when they are outside. The KW Humane Society suggests that, in harsh weather conditions, cold or hot, pets should simply be brought inside.


Signs that your animal is too cold

  • Shaking
  • Shivering
  • Hunched with a tucked tail
  • Whining
  • Taking their paws off the ground
  • If they seem uncomfortable or in pain

Animals experiencing these symptoms should be brought inside and warmed up gradually.

Signs of hypothermia in animals

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Lack of mental alertness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Unconscious

Animals experiencing symptoms of hypothermia should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.

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