As Greater Victoria comes out of a record cold snap and is in the midst of another snow spell, residents are concerned for wildlife accustomed to milder weather and the occasional contributions of food and shelter.
Temperatures set records as low as -8.7 C across Victoria Harbour, Esquimalt and Gonzales Point in the last week of December. While the chill forced humans to brace against the wind on a walk to work or huddle in a shelter waiting for the bus, pets with exposed fur and bare paws had their work cut out for them to keep warm as well.
“Just like people, dogs have different cold tolerances,” said Meghann Cant, manager of companion animal welfare science and policy at the B.C. SPCA. “Those with shorter coats or those who are lower to the ground may become cold more quickly. But really, all dogs are at risk in this kind of weather.”
Animals outside our companionship also can be vulnerable to extreme weather. The Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre (Wild ARC) in Metchosin had its busiest year ever in 2021, said wild animal welfare manager Andrea Wallace.
“Typically at this time of year we admit one to five animals a day,” she said. “However, these cold snaps can increase the number of admissions significantly.” By mid-November, the centre on Malloch Road had admitted more than 3,000 animals.
Particularly vulnerable during cold snaps are Anna’s hummingbirds, which many residents are accustomed to attracting with outdoor feeders.
Finding food and shelter becomes a struggle for the small birds in cold weather, Wallace said. “If you commit to winter feeding, you must commit fully.” Folks with hummingbird feeders can prevent freezing by changing its nectar every few days or bringing it in at night. Adding sugar has also been known to prevent freezing.
Users of the VictoriaBC Reddit page have also shown off a few homemade McGuiver solutions for keeping their feeders warm through the winter.
Pet owners should pay close attention to their companions’ paw pads and toes, Cant said, as municipalities and residents salt their sidewalks and driveways. They should also choose de-icing and anti-freeze materials that are non-corrosive and pet safe for their own homes.
Cant also encourages pet owners to keep their animals fit by engaging in indoor activities such as hide and seek, short-range fetch or playing with a toy attached to a stick. “The key is for folks to pay close attention to their dogs and limit their exposure to the cold,” she said.
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