Winter Weather Danger

Animal Chatter
By Iris Winston

Protect your loved pets from the elements

As soon as you pick up the car keys, your dog is on alert.

“I don’t care where we go,” the bright eyes and pricked ears seem to say. “I just want to come along. Togetherness is what matters most to me.”

Togetherness matters to loving owners too. I certainly try to take my Irish Setter, Marnie, with me whenever possible. Sometimes, however, it is kinder and safer to leave her at home, no matter how pleading her eyes or how disappointed her look as I go out of the door without her. Like children, animals know what they want, but don’t always know what’s good for them.

If I am sure that Marnie would be welcome in any stores, offices, or homes of friends I might be visiting or if I have a companion who is willing to wait with her in the car, while I run an errand, there’s no problem. Marnie can come and enjoy the ride and the socialization, as long as the weather is neither too hot nor too cold. It is considered safe to leave the dog in your car for a few minutes with the windows open— considerably more than a crack—when the outside temperature is above freezing and below 20 degrees Celsius.

But if I am uncertain of the timing of a stop—perhaps because of a medical appointment, when I am likely to be delayed, as health professionals frequently run behind schedule—it would be unfair to her and worrying for me to leave her in the car at any time of year.

Most people are aware of the danger of leaving an animal (or a small child) in a vehicle on a hot day. Even so, one or more hot-car tragedies are reported each summer. Despite this, the majority understand that even such precautions as parking the car in the shade and opening the windows to provide a cross draught are inadequate on hot, humid days.

Cars are temperature conductors. In hot weather, parked vehicles turn into greenhouses, amplifying the outdoor temperature, even when parked in a shady spot with the windows down. Any car quickly becomes unbearably hot. As dogs have a very limited ability to sweat, waiting in a hot car—a heat retaining metal box—even for a short time, can result in heatstroke and be life-threatening to them.

Being left in a cold vehicle in very cold weather can be just as threatening to an animal’s welfare or life. Cars without their engines running in winter become rolling refrigerators. They have little or no insulation against the outside temperature. While being inside a vehicle does provide the animal with some shelter from wind and snow, it does not offer protection against frigid or freezing temperatures. The refrigerator effect as the humidity increases and the temperature drops can lead to hypothermia or frostbite in a very short time.

Hypothermia occurs when a body loses more heat than it can generate, so causing its internal temperature to drop drastically. A dog’s life is in danger when his core body temperature sinks to less than 37 degrees Celsius. Frostbite is the result of damage to the skin and underlying tissues, most frequently to such extremities as the tips of ears, through exposure to very cold temperatures.

Some breeds, such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes or Saint Bernards are better equipped to withstand cold temperatures, but it is unwise to leave even these hardy breeds in the dangerous environment of a vehicle that drops to the outside temperature and below within minutes. And the risk to smaller animals, shorthaired breeds, puppies and senior dogs is much greater, even when they are wearing coats and extra blankets are left in the vehicle so that they can crawl underneath.

Putting an animal at risk is also against the law. Under the Animal Protection Act and the Criminal Code, basic standards of care require owners to provide “ventilation, light and protection from the elements, including harmful temperatures and transportation in a manner that ensures an animal’s physical safety and general welfare.”

In general, terms, when thinking of how best to protect your pets from the elements, make sure that they are comfortable. If you find it hot or cold, the chances are they will too. So, be practical.
On very hot or cold days keep walks short and wash off their paws when you return home tom clean off road salt. Don’t leave dogs or cats outside too long. And most of all, resist your dog’s ardent
wish to take that car ride with you unless you are quite sure that you will be able to keep him safe from the danger that extreme temperatures pose.

Almonte, Ontario writer, Iris Winston, is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. She has been an animal lover all her life. Her pets have always been important members of her family.