With temperatures expected to hit deep negatives in some parts of the country come Friday, Environment Canada and some animal protection organizations are urging Canadians to protect themselves as well as their pets by planning ahead and staying warm.
“There are a lot of things to keep in mind if you are going to bring your animal(s) outdoors,” Stephen Smith, manager of communications at the Ottawa Humane Society, told Global News Thursday.
He says that in the cold weather it’s best to take dogs out for shorter, but more frequent walks, and have them wear a sweater or a coat.
According to the society, pets that live outdoors are required by law to have an insulated house built from weather-proof material, facing away from prevailing winds. The shelter must also be elevated from the ground with a door flap and bedding.
Smith says it’s also important for people to be mindful of stray animals hiding in cars to keep warm, and to bang on the hood a couple of times to scare away cats and wildlife before they start driving.
Read more: ‘Frostbite can develop within minutes:’ Weather warning for Toronto as cold snap expected
And it’s not just about animals. In an average year, the government of Canada says that “more Canadians die from exposure to winter cold than from lightning, windstorms, and tornadoes combined,” but there are ways to prevent such deaths.
“Winter weather conditions in Canada can quickly become dangerous with little or no warning. Winter storms and excessive cold claim over 100 lives each year in this country,” the government says on its website.
Environment Canada forecasts wind chills to be near minus 45 degrees or more in places like Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick this weekend.
Wind chill is a term used to describe what air temperature feels like on exposed human skin due to a combination of cold temperatures and winds blowing, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. The colder the air temperature and the higher the wind speeds, the colder it will feel on the skin when outdoors.
Places like Toronto, and a large swath of southern Ontario, are under an extreme cold weather warning as frigid temperatures are expected to hit late Thursday night.
A blast of cold arctic air will reach southern Ontario Thursday night and last all day Friday and into early Saturday, Environment Canada said.
In some parts of Quebec, the cold snap could be very tough — even during the day. It could feel as frigid as -50 in some areas, including Lanaudière, the Laurentians and Quebec City. In parts of northern Quebec, it could feel as cold as -52.
The dangerous wind chills are also predicted be felt south of the border. It will stretch from northern Pennsylvania to Maine starting early on Friday and through Saturday evening, the National Weather Service said in its forecast.
“The wind chills have the potential to be once-in-a-generation cold,” according to the U.S. agency. They have also urged people to either stay indoors or take precautions against frostbite and hypothermia.
How can Canadians stay safe?
According to Environment Canada, some of the cold-related symptoms to watch out for are “shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain and weakness, numbness and colour change in fingers and toes.”
The government of Canada is also urging people to get assistance if needed.
“Get medical assistance immediately if you notice signs of confusion, slurred speech, stiff muscles or uncontrollable shivering. These are signs of hypothermia,” the government said on its website.
The government adds that it’s important to have an emergency pack at hand with a battery-powered flashlight, a radio, tools for emergency repair, ready-to-eat food, a first aid kit, blankets, and extra clothing should it become too cold to venture outdoors.
“Keep your car gas tank full in case gas stations close down after a storm, and have some cash on hand in case bank machines and electronic payment methods are down,” the government said.
Canadians are also being reminded to dress warmly.
“Wear layers of clothing with a wind-resistant outer layer,” the government said. “You can remove layers if you get too warm, before you start sweating, or add a layer if you get cold.”
In extremely cold conditions like this one, the government recommends covering as much-exposed skin as possible.
“If you get wet, change into dry clothing. You lose heat faster when you are wet.”
How to keep pets safe
Smith says he is in support of animals staying indoors under such circumstances, especially cats.
“When we see the weather get cold, it gets even worse for the cats because they are simply fighting against the elements,” he said.
“We are big supporters of cats staying indoors at all times of the year,” he added.
However, he says there are other ways cat owners can allow their pets to enjoy the outdoors in winter.
“You can build an enclosed patio on your property. That way they’ll be (in) a safe structure, but still, get to enjoy the fresh air,” Smith said.
For dogs, there are a couple of things to be mindful of, according to Smith.
“When you get back inside, make sure you’re wiping salt off your dog’s paws because they can get irritated from that material on their paws,” he said.
He is also urging people to ensure that they don’t take their pets out with them all the time.
“Whenever possible, if you’re running errands keep your animals at home,” said Smith.
“(Also) don’t leave your pets in a cold vehicle.”
Smith says the Ottawa Humane Society gets calls all the time about cats or dogs being left out, even when the weather is too cold.
“Some folks will say definitely see a cat wandering the neighborhood, then wonder what they should do. And the answer is not always easy,” he said.
However, Smith says there are ways to tell if an animal is in actual need of help. If, for example, you find a cat out in the cold but not shivering, he says it’s possible that the animal is very close to home. And, if it’s brought in then the shelter might be causing the animal to be “unintentionally homeless.”
“We do ask folks to take a little bit of time to look at the situation and assess the cat situation, see if they’re healthy, see if they’re happy, and see how they’re doing exactly before they make the decision to bring the cat to the society,” he said.
However, if the cat seems to be stuck outside in extremely cold weather then it’s likely in danger and needs to be brought indoors and to an organization like the Ottawa Humane Society that can help.
— with files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise, Gabby Rodrigues and Reuters