Winter can be a fun time for pets, but with forecasts of an ‘arctic blast’ on the way, PDSA experts are warning owners to keep our four-legged friends safe and warm in the wintry conditions. Pets can be at risk of hypothermia if they get too cold, but it’s also important to ensure they stay active during freezing temperatures.
PDSA, the vet charity for pets in need, asked their Vet Nurse Nina Downing to put together her top tips on keeping our pets cosy and safe through the big freeze.
- Giving dogs their daily walks is important for their physical and mental health, even during the colder months. Try to do this during daylight hours if possible, and consider getting a good dog coat.
- LED collars or high-vis leads are a good investment, to help keep both you and your pooch visible if you’re braving the dark nights and mornings.
- If your dog gets wet while out, dry them off as soon as possible. If you drive your dogs to walks, then keeping a towel in the car is a good idea.
- Check their paws after walks too, as snow can build up and form clumps on the fur between dogs’ toes, which can be painful. Salt and grit can also irritate their pads, so when they return from winter walks it’s a good idea to wash their paws in warm water. Keep the fur between their toes trimmed short, and you can even use some paw butter or pet-friendly skin cream which may prevent their pads becoming dry and sore.
- Don’t leave dogs in cars – the inside temperature can quickly become as cold as the outside, even if you’ve just been driving with the heating on.
- Never leave dogs locked outdoors, ensure they can always access shelter and warmth.
- Watch out for ice, this can be slippery for them as well as us, and if it’s broken it can even cut their paws. Keep dogs off icy surfaces, and definitely keep them away from any frozen lakes and ponds.
- If your dog is very young, elderly, skinny or poorly then they are at higher risk of hypothermia. They can’t control their body temperature well so need extra care to keep them warm. High risk pets should only go outside for short times in cold weather, and should be closely supervised. Give them extra bedding and consider getting a pet-safe heat mat.
Nina added: “It’s worth considering whether your dog would benefit from a good winter coat to keep them warm and dry. Pets that are young, old, unwell, or that have very thin fur, can all benefit from this extra protection. Make sure coats fit well and don’t restrict your dog’s movement.”
- Make sure your cat has a warm, comfy bed, in a draught free area of the house. If possible, make sure this is raised off the floor – cats are often more comfortable when higher up and it will keep them out of the coldest draughts.
- Never leave cats locked outdoors, ensure they can always access shelter and warmth.
- If your cat prefers to stay indoors during very bad weather, help them stay active by providing toys and enrichment activities. This will ensure they don’t miss out on vital exercise. Also make sure they have a litter tray that’s kept clean, so they don’t have to go outside if they don’t want to.
- If your cat prefers to spend time outside, make sure they can always come inside when they want to. Providing an alternative option, in case cat flaps get frozen shut or blocked by snow, is also a good idea.
Nina continued: “It’s really important that our pets stay active during the winter – don’t let them become a coach potato! This can be challenging when the weather is uninviting, but many dogs and cats still enjoy exploring the great outdoors even during the cold and the wet.”
She also has some advice for keeping smaller pets like rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets cosy in the cold weather:
- Bring hutches under shelter – a shed or car-free garage is ideal, to protect them from draughts, rain and snow. Pets that are used to living outdoors can find a centrally heated home a stark contrast, so a cooler room is better, if you bring them indoors. Make sure they have access to natural light and an exercise run.
- Bulk up bedding – give small pets extra bedding during the winter, so they can snuggle right down to keep warm.
- Provide protection – if there’s no option than to keep hutches outdoors, then drape a blanket or piece of carpet over the mesh door to keep out the worst of the weather. You could also use plastic sheeting, but make sure any covers don’t obstruct ventilation.
- Don’t forget to check water bottles or bowls several times a day to make sure they’re not frozen.