'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 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, 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.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

On Monday morning, the Humane Society took in three dogs and one cat.

"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 Pyranese, 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 Horgan, branch manager for the Kelowna BCSPCA.

Josh Pagé/CBC
Josh Pagé/CBC

Both Horgan 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, Horgan 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.

Young said you can use a scent, such as an essential oil on a q-tip, and train your dog to find it by rewarding them with a toy or food when they do.

"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.

A simpler version of the game is hide and seek by hiding their favourite toy or food.

"Start simple and then gradually you can kind of increase the challenge for your dog once they figure out the game."