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With the recent drop in temperature it’s important that not only you wrap up warm and take precautions when outside but that your pets stay happy and safe too.

Here are some tips for pet owners during the winter season.

Coats – whilst some dog breeds have a double coat and or are more suited to low temperatures, just because your pet has a fur coat doesn’t mean he won’t feel the cold. Small dogs or dogs with little to no hair should have some sort of protective gear such as sweaters or jackets for protection against the cold.  If your dog doesn’t like wearing clothing, then better to keep them out of the cold and provide them with mental and physical stimulation through play instead.  That way you can make time to introduce protective clothing in a positive way, systematic way, always working at their pace.  Check out “Playing With Your Dog” by Hanne Grice for great game ideas for all ages, and enrichment ideas for all ages.

Hanne's book - Playing With Your Dog

Water & food – ensure food and water is provided inside the home to prevent it from freezing.  Keep the water at room temperature as pet’s can easily become dehydrated in winter, and avoid letting them drink water from bowls outside; the frigid temperatures could cause stomach upsets and even hypothermia.  Pets can easily dehydrate and small pet drinking dispensers quickly freeze over – check these in the morning and early evenings to ensure they have ready access to clean water.  

Cold – pets should not be left outside or walked for long periods of time. Time can fly when you’re having fun, so aim to limit how long your dog is out in the cold. Monitor your pet’s behaviour and energy levels, and take regular breaks to avoid overdoing it.  

This includes considering your typical routine. For example, on my walk this morning to school it was 0 degrees celsius, many dogs were tied up in the park near the school gates, having to sit or lay on icy grass whilst waiting for their carers. Being tied up meant these dogs were unable to move about easily. Some observable signs included shivering, vocalisations including barking and whining, lip licking, tucked tail, attempting to move towards some overhanging branches, and vigilant behaviours. Imagine having to wait for your friend for a few minutes or more in the cold – soon your ability to retain any warmth would disappear, along with our tolerance levels – it’s the same for our dogs. So, bear in mind that even half an hour in freezing temperatures can cause problems; your pet’s ears, feet and tail are highly susceptible to frostbite, so err on the side of caution and reduce outdoor time. 

For small animals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, bring them indoors or house them in a warm ventilated out-building such as a shed or garage to reduce exposure to harsh temperatures.  Avoid placing indoor hutches near radiators, windows or garage doors.

Ice and feet – when walking your dog near ice or frozen puddles/ponds/canals/lakes, keep them close to you and on the lead.  This ensures your dog cannot run across the ice, avoids his feet getting accidentally cut on the ice and helps prevent falls on the ice which may lead to injury for you and your dog.  Ice melting agents like chemical de-icers and rock salt are typically used in colder weather so always wash your dog’s paws or wipe them down with a damp cloth after a winter walk, to remove any salt, grit or other substances from the roads/pavements.  These can irritate the skin and cause stomach upset should your four-legged friend lick their paws.  Pet friendly ways to reduce slipping is to use sand, dirt, gravel or wood ash over the top of snow and ice.  These substances will not melt the snow/ice but they can help to provide grittiness, making it safer to walk.

Shaking – if your pet is out in the cold and begins shaking or shivering, get him back to warm shelter as soon as possible. Signs of hypothermia include shaking/violent shivering, slow and shallow respiration, a slower heart rate, gums may appear pale or blue.  The pet may also appear listless.  Call your vet immediately.

Eating snow/ground matter – avoid letting your pet eat snow or anything else on the ground.  Dangerous objects or chemicals may be hidden in the snow or ice.  Eating snow can also cause stomach upsets, at worse it can even led to hypothermia. It’s best to accompany your dog out into the garden for their toilet and play breaks to keep an eye on them.

Antifreeze – make sure you keep antifreeze for your car out of your pets reach.  While many solutions have been updated, every year a number of animals are accidentally poisoned by it.  The substance tastes sweet to pets, which encourages them to drink.  As a precaution, do not allow your pet to drink from any puddles, particularly when out on a walk as it may contain antifreeze, car oil or other substances that could be harmful to your pet.  Supervise your pet while outside (even in the garden) – if you suspect your pet has had any exposure to antifreeze or other potentially toxic substances, call your vet immediately.

Fire – if you use an indoor or outdoor fireplace, keep a safety guard around it in order to protect your pet from the flames and soot.  Never leave a fire unattended nor let your pet venture close to the fire even hours after it has died down to reduce the risk of burns or any sharp items/wood remaining in and around the area.

Shelter/bedding – always ensure your pet has adequate shelter where it will be warm and dry.  His bed shouldn’t be in a draughty area and bedding, suitable for your pet’s species, should be kept dry.  Provide extra blankets when temperatures dip below freezing for cats and dogs, ensure hutches are well insulated with hay and other protective pet coverings.

Grooming – ice and snow can get easily caught up in the fur of your pet.  Regular grooming will help avoid matter being caught in their coat and a well-groomed coat means a better insulating coat for your pet.

In the car – never leave your pet alone in a vehicle.  There is a risk that if the engine is off, this could lead to hypothermia and or risk of theft.  If the engine is left running, he may be overcome with carbon monoxide fumes.  Better to leave your dog at home in the warm.  

Follow these tips to keep your pet healthy, happy and safe this winter.

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