Keeping companion animals safe in winter

With temperatures dropping and forecasts of snow on the way it’s important to prepare our animal friends for the wintry weather ahead! Help your companion animals to stay safe and warm this winter with our tops tips!

dog in winter

Walking in the cold weather

Dogs

  • Safety is important! Snow can be new and exciting for dogs so make sure it‚Äôs safe before you let them off the lead. Check for dangers, such as hidden holes or ice. Keep your dog on a lead if it is snowing heavily.
  • Dog jumpers and thick coats are great for short haired or elderly dogs, who can get too cold when they’re out in winter. If your dog has longer fur you can allow their winter coat to grow for extra protection.
  • Flashing collars or high-vis jackets are a good idea if you are walking when it‚Äôs dark. Dogs should always be microchipped, and the chip details should be kept up to date in case your dog gets lost.
  • Leads, collars and harnesses should be regularly checked to ensure they are functioning safely, as they are more at risk of wear and tear or damage during winter weather. If it’s extra cold, it can be very difficult to do up lead clips and attach them to collars and harnesses. Wet weather may also cause metal clips to rust.
  • Check paws regularly, particularly if your dog suddenly seems uncomfortable or starts limping. Their paws may be too cold or could have become impacted with snow. Ice balls can form between the pads and toes on their feet, or cling around the surrounding fur. Remove any you find immediately.
  • Grit, sprayed onto roads and pavements to melt the snow and ice, contains chemicals that can lead to burns on paws if they come into prolonged contact. Wipe your dog’s paws, legs and tummy after a walk to prevent grit, as well as dampness, irritating the skin.
  • Iced over lakes and ponds can be very dangerous for your dog to run or walk on, as the ice may not be thick enough to take their weight. If your dog does find their way onto some ice do not follow and call them back to you. If they fall through the ice, encourage them to swim back to you and call the emergency services.
  • Remember it’s probably too cold for your dog to be out for extended periods of time if you feel too chilly. Don‚Äôt overdress yourself too warmly for a dog walk, that way you are more likely to be aware of how cold your dog is feeling.
Dog with toy

Spending extra time indoors

  • Play¬†stimulating games¬†with¬†your dog¬†inside¬†to tire them out a¬†little and¬†keep them from¬†getting¬†bored.¬†Try¬†hiding¬†their toys or treats for them to¬†find!¬†
  • Your dog’s diet¬†may need altering if they are¬†getting less exercise over the colder¬†months. With¬†lots of food and not enough exercise, dogs can¬†become¬†overweight.¬†Ask your vet for advice on this.¬†
  • Antifreeze¬†is highly poisonous but tasty¬†for¬†dogs,¬†so keep it well out of their reach and mop up any spills!¬†Contact a vet immediately if you think your¬†dog¬†has¬†swallowed antifreeze.¬†
Cat walking in snow

Some cats might still want to brave winter temperatures

Cats

  • Provide shelter¬†for your cat¬†outside¬†to ensure they are safe, such as a¬†sturdy cardboard box covered in plastic sheeting.¬†
  • Microchipping¬†your cat is important as¬†they might try to find somewhere warm nearby, which might not be the safest place for them.¬†Ensure¬†the details are up to date,¬†so that¬†they can be traced back to you.¬†¬†
  • Car¬†engines¬†can be warm and¬†tempting for cats¬†to crawl into.¬†Before setting off in your car make sure you tap the bonnet of your car and check around the wheels and on top of the tyres before you start the engine and drive.¬†
  • Antifreeze¬†should be avoided¬†to clear your car windscreen of ice,¬†as some cats¬†are¬†attracted to the¬†taste,¬†but¬†it can prove deadly if they¬†swallow it!¬†De-icers¬†and¬†screen washes¬†can¬†also¬†be¬†dangerous so contact a vet immediately if you think your cat has ingested¬†any of them.¬†
  • Cat flaps¬†can become blocked or stuck by¬†a¬†heavy snowfalls¬†or icy patch¬†so check¬†cat flaps¬†regularly¬†to make sure your cat can get easily in and out.¬†
  • Freshwater¬†should be provided indoors¬†in case any outside sources freeze.¬†
  • Sheds, outhouses and garages¬†should be regularly checked¬†to ensure your cat, or anyone else‚Äôs,¬†isn‚Äôt locked inside.
  • Grit and salt¬†or anything¬†else¬†that might stick to¬†cats’¬†paws and fur should be wiped away when¬†they¬†come in from the snow¬†to prevent skin irritation.¬†¬†
  • Traffic visibility¬†can be reduced as the evenings get darker.¬†If you‚Äôre concerned¬†about your cat near roads,¬†keep your¬†them¬†indoors.¬†

 

Cat asleep on radiator

Keeping cats cosy inside

  • Keep cats indoors¬†if the weather becomes particularly cold.¬†While they might seem bored or restless, pet cats aren‚Äôt used to extreme temperatures and can even develop frostbite or hypothermia.¬†¬†
  • Enrichment toys and feeders¬†can keep cats entertained and exercised if they are¬†spending more time indoors because of the cold weather.¬†
  • Warm places¬†are important for cats to snuggle up in,¬†so make sure that their beds are away from¬†draughty¬†windows and doors.¬†Heat pads or beds that go over radiators are¬†great.¬†¬†
  • Litter trays¬†should be placed in a private spot,¬†so¬†your cat won‚Äôt have to head outside to go to the toilet. Remember to scoop it out daily and completely clean¬†it¬†out once a week.¬†
  • Open¬†fireplaces¬†are lovely in winter but can be a risk to cats. Screen off open fireplaces and always supervise your cat if you have lit a fire.¬†
  • Arthritic and elderly cats¬†can suffer in cold weather as it severely affects their joints. Offer plenty of warm places for your cat to sleep in, as well as making sure they are easily accessible. If you are concerned about your cat‚Äôs health¬†or¬†notice¬†any changes, then seek veterinary advice.¬†
Rabbit and guinea pig

Rabbits and guinea pigs 

  • Provide fresh leafy greens¬†every day as your rabbit or¬†guinea pig will have less access to these in your garden¬†during the winter.¬†
  • Daily exercise¬†is essential¬†even¬†during the winter so make sure your rabbit has opportunities to exercise every day to stay fit and healthy.

If you keep your rabbit or guinea pig outside: 

  • Extra bedding¬†should be provided¬†to keep them warm.¬†This¬†includes¬†dust-free hay and straw, on top of layers of newspaper, which absorb moisture and provide insulation.¬†¬†
  • Store¬†bedding somewhere¬†dry.¬†If hay or straw becomes damp or mouldy throw it away, as eating this could cause your¬†pet¬†to become ill.¬†¬†
  • Blankets¬†can cause an intestinal blockage if chewed¬†so should be avoided.¬†
  • Homes¬†should be¬†well¬†sheltered.¬†Face their hutch away from the wind, rain, and snow. Cover it with blankets and¬†sheets but¬†leave enough space to allow for good airflow.¬†
  • Waterproof, draught-proof and dampproof housing¬†is essential,¬†so make any necessary repairs or modifications.¬†Check inside your¬†pets’¬†home for damp or¬†watermarks¬†that may indicate that water is getting in.¬†¬†
  • Sloped roof¬†hutches¬†are¬†preferable as¬†they¬†allow water to drain away.¬†¬†
  • Raise homes¬†off the ground by at least¬†4 inches¬†to prevent the base becoming damp and rotten.¬†
  • Pet safe wood preservative¬†should be used¬†regularly¬†to treat the outside of hutches and sheds to ensure they are¬†waterproof.¬†
  • Water¬†should be checked¬†at least twice a day¬†to ensure it hasn‚Äôt frozen.¬†Animals¬†may drink more in the winter if their access to a grassy run or leafy green food is limited.¬†
  • Clean¬†the hutch more frequently if your¬†rabbit or guinea pig¬†is spending more¬†time¬†inside during¬†the winter.¬†
  • Towel¬†dry¬†your pet if they¬†do get wet outside in the rain or snow.¬†
  • Ensure all welfare needs¬†are met by keeping their daily feeding and exercise times consistent. Even though it may be tempting to visit your rabbits less in winter, it‚Äôs important to¬†interact¬†with them, continue¬†health checks¬†and¬†groom¬†them regularly.¬†
Rabbit indoors hopping

Bring your rabbit or guinea pig inside if possible

  • It is ideal¬†to bring your rabbit or guinea pig into¬†your home or into an outhouse, shed or unused garage¬†over the colder months.¬†
  • Gradually¬†introduce¬†them¬†to their new indoor home, by bringing them indoors for increasingly longer periods each day during the summer and autumn so that they can settle in and explore their new surroundings.¬†
  • Hazards¬†should be¬†identified before¬†moving your pet¬†inside,¬†such as¬†wires they can chew or¬†other pets that they’re not used to.¬†
  • Garages¬†that are in use should never¬†be used to¬†house or exercise rabbits¬†or guinea pigs, as vehicle exhaust fumes are harmful¬†for them.
Fish in frozen pond

The perils of a frozen pond....

Outdoor fish

  • Check your pond daily¬†to¬†make sure¬†the surface is not entirely frozen as poisonous gases can build up under the ice.¬†
  • Do not break the ice¬†as shards from the sharp ice could¬†harm the fish.¬†¬†
  • Melt the ice¬†by¬†placing¬†a¬†saucepan of warm (not boiling) water on top of the ice to slowly melt¬†a hole in it.¬†
  • Boiling water¬†should never be tipped¬†straight onto the pond, as this can also harm or kill any fish living there.¬†

We’d like to thank The Dogs Trust, Cats Protection and The RSPCA for providing the information, which we’ve gathered together for you. 

While everyone wants the best for their companions, please spare a thought for the animals who are forced to stay outdoors in all weathers. Many animals, such as sheep, are often forced to stand in fields, in the snow and rain. They cannot take cover as wild animals will do. You can get more information, including how you can stop supporting these practices, here.