Caring for your pets in winter and cold weather

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Cold weather can be harmful to our pets in ways some of us don’t realise and can sometimes cause serious illness or even death.

Here’s our tips for winter pet care.

How cold weather affects pets

Temperatures often fall below zero in the UK during the winter months, and this can be harmful to our pets. 

Taking your dog for a walk on a very cold day or letting your cat out in the evening could be dangerous during this weather. These dangers could include:

  • hypothermia 
  • frostbite
  • dehydration
  • antifreeze poisoning

How to keep your dogs and cats safe in the cold

Dogs and cats require similar care in cold weather. Take the following steps to protect your dogs and cats in cold weather:

Check your pet’s paws

It’s common for local councils to spread salt and grit on roads and pavements in winter, but this can actually be harmful for pets. 

According to the RSPCA, rock salt (salt and grit) can cause thirst, vomiting, lethargy, convulsions and even kidney damage in pets if they ingest it. 

Check there’s no grit or salt in your pet’s paws or fur before, during, and after their time outside. You should also check for small chunks of ice lodged in your pet’s paws, as these can become painful.

Antifreeze is also very dangerous to pets, and can cause kidney damage and even death. This will most commonly be found around cars and can easily rub onto your pet’s paws or fur upon contact. Be careful about letting your pet near cars during winter.

Keep your pet warm and dry

Dogs and cats can suffer from frostbite, mostly on the ears, paws and tail. If the ground is frozen or snow-covered, your pet may experience frostbite, especially if they’re outdoors for long periods of time. 

Being wet in low temperatures can increase the chance of your pet suffering from frostbite. Make sure that if it’s snowing or raining, you dry your pet as soon as they get indoors. 

Provide a coat for extra warmth

A lot of pet owners give their pets a coat in wet or cold weather, either to keep them dry or just to provide some extra warmth. 

You can buy pet coats in physical and online stores, in a range of sizes.

Steer clear of toxic plants

Common winter plants can be toxic to dogs and cats. The list of poisonous festive plants includes: 

  • mistletoe 
  • ivy
  • holly
  • poinsettia
  • yew
  • winter cherry
  • Christmas trees

Keep an eye on your pet when they’re outside to make sure they’re not eating anything like this. 

Try to avoid keeping these plants in your home, as it makes them a lot easier for your pets to access. If you’re putting up a Christmas tree, consider putting a barrier around it or placing it in a room that your pet doesn’t go into. 

At Christmas, you should also avoid giving your pet festive foods, like Christmas pudding, mince pies, and chocolate. Stick to pet-friendly treats that you know won’t cause any harm.

How to keep your small animals safe in the cold         

If you have outdoor small animals, like rabbits or guinea pigs, they may also suffer because of cold weather. 

Consider getting a heater to place just outside your pets’ garden enclosure (if in a shed or similar), or move them into your home for the duration of the winter. You should regularly check their water bottle or bowl to make sure it hasn’t frozen. 

Note that rabbits can be left in their outdoor enclosure during the winter, but will need extra bedding and protection from the cold. If you have space, it’s best to bring them indoors. 

How to keep animals warm when indoors

If you have any indoor small animals or an indoor cat (or a cat that’s reluctant to go outside), the cold can still be a problem at times. 

Even dogs can be affected by the cold when indoors. While they won’t be exposed to snow and rain, our homes can get very cold in the winter, especially during the night. 

Follow these steps to keep your small animals safe and comfortable in winter:

  • put the heating on in the early morning and night for a short period
  • provide a hot water bottle for extra heat (with a cover and warm, not boiling, water)
  • provide blankets or extra straw where possible 
  • keep their beds/enclosures away from windows and doors 
  • consider buying a heated bed

What to avoid in pet care during winter months 

To keep your pet safe in cold weather, avoid:

What temperature should my dog or cat be?

Very cold weather can cause discomfort and even hypothermia in pets

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, dogs and cats’ normal internal temperature should range from 38.3 to 39.2°C. If your pet’s temperature exceeds or falls below this range, you should contact your vet.

When should I avoid walking my dog?

Any temperature below -4°C will be very uncomfortable for small and medium dogs, so it’s wise to avoid going out in these conditions. If you have a larger dog with a thicker coat, lower temperatures will be easier for them, but avoid going out in conditions below -7°C. 

You should also avoid taking older dogs out for a walk in very low temperatures.

When should I avoid letting my cat out?

Any temperature below -7°C is dangerous to your cat, so avoid letting them out in these conditions. Be extra wary of letting older cats out in low temperatures, as the cold can more severely affect their joints. 

Give your cat or dog the cover they deserve