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General pet factsheets

Winter survival guide

Wintertime can be lots of fun for all the family but only if you’re prepared for the hazards that come with it. Read our advice to help keep your pet warm, happy and safe from danger during the cold spell…

Dogs

  • When the thermometer dips don’t leave your dog outside unattended – most pet dogs spend a lot of time inside and aren’t used to the extreme cold so could develop hypothermia or frostbite.
  • Short-coated breeds, like greyhounds, Dobermans and Chihuahuas really struggle to cope with the cold so make sure they’ve got a cosy doggy jumper or coat on when they go outside.
  • If your dog starts lifting up their paws, whining or stopping while out on walks it could well be because their feet are too cold, so it’s a good idea to invest in some boots for them to wear.
  • Trim the hair around your dog’s feet to help prevent ice-balls – these form between the pads and toes of the feet and are really painful.
  • If you walk on salted pavements wash your dog’s paws after a walk because salt and grit can really irritate their footpads. 
  • Stay away from frozen ponds or lakes and keep your dog on a lead near frozen water. If they do run on to it, it’s tempting to go after them but it’s really important that you don’t. Most dogs are strong swimmers and are more likely to get themselves out of trouble than you are. 
  • Don’t be a fair-weather friend – take your dog out in all weathers where possible but be careful in slippery conditions. If you’re elderly, don’t put yourself at risk, keep your dog at home and spend time playing games indoors to stop them from getting too bored or frustrated.
  • If your dog is less active during the winter months, don’t forget to cut back a bit on what you feed them.
  • When you’re out walking wear bright/reflective clothing so you can be seen by motorists during the dark evenings. You can also get some great reflective gear for dogs too.
  • It’s not just people who are tempted to overindulge over Christmas but eating human food can give your dog an upset tummy and turkey bones can choke them. Don’t forget to keep your choccies out of reach too because they’re toxic to dogs. 



Cats

  • Most cats prefer to snuggle up inside during the winter but if yours is the outdoors type make sure they always have a warm place they can go to at all times. And, if it’s really cold, keep them inside even if they are unimpressed – pet cats aren’t used to the extreme cold and can develop hypothermia and frostbite. 
  • Cats left outdoors often crawl into a warm car engine to get warm and, when the engine is started up, they can be seriously injured or even killed. They might also venture somewhere they shouldn’t and get trapped without food or water. If in doubt, keep your cat inside.
  • Cats that usually go to the toilet outside may need a litter tray inside, especially when there’s snow on the ground. Also, when snow is deep cat flaps can become blocked so you’ll need to check them to make sure that your cat can get out and, more importantly, back in again. 
  • Make sure your cat is fitted with a microchip so if they do wander off in search of a warm place they can be traced back to you.
  • Look out for hidden dangers over the festive season – poinsettia and lilies are popular Christmas plants but they’re actually poisonous to cats. And keep tinsel out of reach if you don’t fancy a trip to the vet to have it removed from your cat’s gut or rear-end.



Rabbits and guinea pigs

  • Hutches should be positioned so that wind, rain, snow or sleet can’t blow in. If the weather’s particularly bad, move the hutch into an unused garage or shed if it’s possible. For guinea pigs, it’s better to keep them inside in winter, in a conservatory or unused garage. 
  • If your pets need to stay outside, help keep them snug as a bug in their hutch by covering the front with an old blanket or sacking and adding extra bedding. Don’t forget you need to change their bedding regularly.
  • Check their water bottle regularly because the little ball freezes easily. Press the ball every few hours to keep it moving – you can get specially made bottle covers but you’ll still need to do regular checks.
  • Your pet still needs to have access to their run during the day so they can get their regular exercise.
  • Cold pets need more calories to keep warm so give them lots of good quality hay to nibble on.
  • During the winter foxes and badgers get even hungrier, which makes them bolder than usual. Make sure your hutch is sturdy enough to survive the attention of a determined predator.


Horses

  • Chilly winds can make horses spooky and unpredictable so be extra alert when handling and riding.
  • Horses cope very well in cold temperatures – it is wind and rain that they can struggle with. If you can, provide a windbreak, like a field shelter or even a line of trees, to block some of the wind or rain.
  • There are lots of rugs on the market to suit all types, from a thin rain sheet to a thick rug for fine-coated or clipped horses. Some of the hardier breeds may not even need a rug over the winter or will be fine with just a rain sheet to help keep them dry.  
  • Horses naturally lose a bit of weight in the winter in preparation for the spring grass but keep an eye on your horse’s weight – if you find they are losing a lot then you may need to increase their hay because this will help to keep them warm. Don’t forget that overweight horses are still susceptible to laminitis, even in winter.
  • Check your horse’s water regularly to break and remove ice. Floating a tennis ball in the trough can help to slow down the freezing process and keep a tool handy to get rid of any ice that does build up.
  • Horses can easily get chilled after a workout. Walk your horse after exercise so they can cool down slowly and, if necessary, use a cooler blanket to stop their body temperature from losing heat too quickly
  • In winter, when the grazing isn’t as good, horses are more likely to forage in ditches and hedgerows for food which, in the wet and muddy conditions, can be really dangerous. Check your boundary fencing and hedging thoroughly every week, especially near ditches and roads. Hedges lose their foliage in the winter so might need reinforcing.
  • If you’re moving your horse to new grazing, do it first thing in the morning so they become familiar with the new space while it’s light.
  • As for any time of year, always wear reflective clothing when you’re out riding and take a mobile phone with you for emergencies.
  • If it’s foggy or icy, don’t go riding – it’s not worth the risk.
  • Plan for extreme weather – would you be able to get to your horse in heavy snow?  Who would be able to help you out? Would they have all the information they need to look after your horse?