An extreme cold warning for Weyburn will have most folks limiting their time outdoors or bundling up to bear through it. Windchills of -40 to -50 Celsius can freeze exposed skin in mere minutes, something to keep in mind while putting on the layers before your daily dog walks. Dr. Greg Douglas, a veterinarian with Prairie Animal Health Centre in Weyburn, reminds pet owners that animals are not as keen at recognizing when they've had enough cold and that we will need to remain cognizant of how long they are exposed to these harsh elements.
"I think the most important thing is just to recognize that dogs and cats can't be out in the cold as long as they normally will," he advised. "They're just like humans. They can freeze ears, they can freeze their toes, they can have frostbite, and it can happen very quickly. Animals won't make the determination that it's good or it's bad to be outside for long if they're playing, so we as humans have to do it for them. It is advisable that they do not spend any more time outside than they have to."
While there are clear signs that an animal will display if they've been exposed for too long, the hope is that we can avoid these signs. Animals will typically display their discomfort only after the damage has been done. The exposed areas between our pets' toes, ears, and noses are particularly vulnerable to frostbite. While boots and sweaters can help bolster an animal's resistance to the cold, they still do not compare to how well humans can protect themselves, and owners still need to be aware of how long they've been outdoors.
"It's measured in minutes and not more than that," warned Douglas. "It doesn't take long to freeze ears. Ears don't have a great blood supply, so they can freeze rather quickly. It never hurts to have boots for dogs in this type of weather, and more and more owners will have garments for their pets which allows you the opportunity to have them out for longer to get more exercise. But when they're running in this cold, they can develop some coughs because that dry air can be a little bit harder on the respiratory tract if they're running hard."
The point is very clear that even with extra precautions, animals remain vulnerable in these extreme conditions and limiting their exposure is important. Dr. Douglas added that exercise is still important, but that we may need to adjust our routines to keep our pets safe.
"If the dog normally gets a walk once a day, then spread it out to three or four times a day, in short 5-to-10-minute intervals," he said.
As for animals that generally live outdoors, Douglas warned against the false belief that they can get used to these extreme temperatures. While a farm dog may have a slightly higher resistance, he remained steadfast that they should still be allowed access to a heated shelter at all times and be brought into a warm shelter at night as well.
"It is not acceptable for an animal to be expected to fend for itself when it's -30, so I do think we have to go the next length and have them in a garage environment. A lot of farm dogs don't really like being inside," he recognized. "They haven't been inside, and they don't enjoy it, but for nights like this weekend and the next four or five days, I think it's really important that we find a way to get those animals into a warmer setting. It can be a garage, as long as it's away from the wind chill."
Even with due diligences, owners need to know what signs to what for in an animal that has gotten too cold. Dr. Douglas iterated that if a pet is displaying any of these signs, it is imperative that they be brought inside immediately.
"Most animals will lift up a paw, so they'll tell you that it hurts, and in really bad situations they'll even shake their heads if their ears start to tingle," he explained. "You'll sometimes see that they'll be resistant to moving. So, if they're normally really active outside and at some point, they just they stand very still or they don't want to move, it's because they're really uncomfortable. They can have tearing in their eyes, they can have tearing from their nose. Those are more subtle. But again, if it gets to that point, that's when an animal's in a significant amount of distress and we do not want to get to that point."
Douglas also touched on livestock, adding that farmers will need to remain vigilant over these next few days and take the time to check up on their animals more often.
"We're in the early stages of calving season and a lot of these calves are going to be born and in these types of temperatures, so producers have to be checking their animals more frequently in these situations. Get your calving boxes up to speed and all the things that you have in your calving quarters so that you can warm these calves up in a hurry and keep them in a warm situation."
For those who may happen to notice an animal alone and showing signs of distress in this extreme cold, it is recommended to take action by getting that animal to a warm location. Warm blankets and body heat are the best tools to use, but it is advised by Dr. Douglas to avoid placing animals in water to warm them up. He also recommends contacting the Weyburn Humane Society or Prairie Animal Health Centre, as these locations are safe spaces to bring animals that can also help locate their owners.