The coldest days of winter have plagued Albertans since the start of February, leaving plenty of people and their pets stuck inside. 

Wool socks and a thick jacket can help humans brave the frigid temperatures but pets need to be protected, too.

Kären Marsden, a vet at the Edmonton Holistic Veterinary Clinic, said frostbite is a serious concern for cats and dogs. Their ears, nose, and paws are the most vulnerable areas, she said.

“You have to take a good look in the house at what colour your dog’s ears and paws are,” said Marsden, who noted dogs often lift their paws if they’re feeling pain. “If they are changing to kind of a light, purply colour, that’s a warning sign for frostbite.”

Warm water or a heating pad can be applied to the affected areas. It’s a good sign if the tissue turns pink, Marsden said, but a dark purple colour indicates it has been damaged and a trip to the vet is needed.

Jackets and booties can help keep dogs warm on winter walks. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Like humans, pets can dress for the weather to prevent frostbite. Dogs should wear a coat and boots when temperatures dip below –20 C, and shouldn’t be outside for long periods of time, Marsden said.

“It’s really cold out and it’s not in their best interest to have that big walk,” she said. “It’s not worth it to take them out too long. Just a short period of time.”

Despite the deep freeze, dogs still have to be taken outside regularly, Marsden said.

Bilinda Taras Krupa, an applied dog behaviour consultant and trainer with K9 Misfits, recommends putting shavings or pee pads down in the yard, so pets’ feet don’t freeze during bathroom breaks.

“Go outside with them, give them treats,” she said. “It’s very helpful.”

Fighting boredom

Leaving dogs inside all day with nothing to do can lead to behaviour issues, said Taras Krupa.

“What happens is with multiple-dog homes, is you get dogs fighting more and then aggression issues [develop] because they’re not used to their normal routine,” she said.

But she said that can be avoided by keeping pets mentally stimulated. For dogs, that means training.

Bilinda Taras Krupa, a dog behaviour consultant and trainer, says training exercises can help keep dogs entertained when it’s too cold for long walks outside. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

“You can exhaust your dog in 10 to 15 minutes depending on the breed of dog — some dogs even less time — by doing some simple, basic exercises and making it really fun,” Taras Krupa said.

Practising commands like ‘sit, stay and come’ can keep a dog entertained and help burn energy, she said. Hiding treats in toys can also keep pets entertained, she added.

For outdoor cats, Marsden recommended putting more catnip around the house.

Snow dogs

Taras Krupa noted behaviour in the cold weather varies from dog to dog.

Jillian Heiberg’s dog, Winnie the Pooch, is one pup that loves the snow. Winnie is a Blue Heeler-Great Pyrenees mix, and has a thick undercoat, Heiberg said.

The pair played fetch with a Frisbee Sunday afternoon in Rundle Park.

Winnie the Pooch races through the snow during a game of fetch in Rundle Park on Sunday. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

“In the winter, she just loves it,” Heiberg said. “She dives into the snow.”

Heiberg said Winnie’s body language can indicate if she gets too cold.

“Once in a while, she’ll lift up a paw, so I just warm it up a little bit and she’s good to go for another half an hour.”

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