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How to keep your dog safe in extremely cold temperatures

The artic freeze is expected to continue into the New Year, with more spells of heavy snow on the way.

Photo | Kameron Kincade

Vancouver has seen an unseasonably cold snap this Christmas, with the arrival of an arctic outflow that has seen days of minus temperatures, piles of snow and even Vancouverites playing hockey on frozen ponds.

Although playing in the snow can be fun, the extremely cold temperatures can be taxing for our pups, who may not be enjoying the cold weather as much as us.

We've pulled together some tips from the BC SPCA to help keep your pets safe this winter - especially for the next few days.

Take shorter walks or exercise inside

Although we can wrap ourselves up in as many layers as possible for a day out in the snow, with limited outerwear for your pup they can only last a fraction of the time we spend outside. Consider taking your dog - especially if they are young or old - on shorter or less frequent outside walks to exercise them.

If your home is big enough, you can consider playing with your dog inside with a tug toy or a flirt pole - a pole with rope and a toy attached to the end. Hide and seek or even indoor agility classes are other good options to keep your pup exercised in the cooler weather.

Dress your pup for the weather

Dogs may have fur coats but this doesn't mean they don't get cold, especially in the minus temperatures Vancouver has been experiencing the past week. Wrap up your pup in a warm jacket and consider investing in booties to keep their paws warm too.

Clean your dog's paws from salt after walks in the snow

Salts and chemicals found in de-icing chemicals can be irritating to our pups' paws, mouths and skin and can cause stomach upset and electrolyte imbalances if ingested.

Make sure you dry your pups paws after walks, taking extra care to clean between their toes and pads.

You should also opt to use more pet and wildlife-friendly de-icing products - the BC SPCA recommends pet-safe, propylene glycol-based antifreeze instead of ethylene glycol-based antifreeze, which is toxic to wildlife and pets.

Watch out for signs of frostbite

Puppies and older dogs can find it more difficult to control their body temperature when it gets cold. Dogs with heart disease or diabetes are also at a greater risk of getting frostbite, as these conditions reduce blood flow to their paws and tails.

The cold can also aggravate existing health conditions like arthritis in older dogs, who the BC SPCA say should be closely monitored or kept inside.

Signs of frostbite

  • They have pale grey or blueish skin

  • Pain and swelling in the area

  • The skin feels cold, brittle and may be painful

  • Blisters or skin ulcers

  • Areas of blackened or dead skin

Signs of hypothermia

  • Shivering

  • Pale or grey gums

  • Lethargy

  • Stumbling or lack of coordination

Treating frostbite in your dog

If you notice your dogs paws, tails or ears are frostbitten it could be an early sign they could be developing hypothermia. Here are some tips to help them recover:

Warm them up

  • Place your dog’s paws or other frostbitten areas in a bowl of warm water – test it with your hand first and make sure it’s warm to the touch but not too hot.

  • Don't use dry heat, like a hairdryer or heating pad on your dog. Pat them dry and make sure not to rub or massage the frostbitten area.

Take them to the vet

  • When the dog starts to warm up their frostbitten paws can become red and painful. Your local vet may give your dog pain medication to help keep your pet comfortable during the healing process.

  • If the frostbite is more severe, the dog may require antibiotics to prevent a secondary bacterial skin infection.


  • Don't try to warm up your dog if you aren't close to home unless you can keep the area warm. The area can refreeze and cause more damage.


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