Cold weather advice for pets

Winter can be a dangerous time for pets, especially when the weather turns to ice and snow. We've prepared some cold weather tips to keep your pets happy when the weather turns nasty.
Ginger cat sat on a window sill with a snowy scene outside

Cats

Cats are pretty good at looking after themselves in the cold, usually preferring to stay in the warm and dry and watch the snow fall from the safety of a windowsill or radiator hammock. There are still some potential risks to their health in extreme weather conditions:

Anti-freeze

Even in tiny doses anti-freeze can be lethal to cats by causing kidney failure. They seem to be attracted to its taste. They can lick it from their paws if they have walked through it, so thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle as soon as you notice them. Signs of poisoning include vomiting, lethargy, increased urination and seizures.

Aches and Pains

When the weather becomes cooler and damper, pets with chronic conditions such as Arthritis seem to suffer aches and pains more regularly. If you notice your pet is uncomfortable or stiff, especially after a period of resting, you should mention this to your vet. There are lots of different ways to manage arthritis which don't involve medication – keeping pets to a sensible weight is one of the best things you can do to help them, as is ensuring an appropriate amount of exercise. Ask your vet about supplements or special foods which can help maintain joint health. Hot water bottles, heat pads etc. are good for older pets to help circulation whilst they are asleep, which reduces the chances of joints stiffening up.

Urine retention

Cats who usually go to the toilet outside can sometimes be so reluctant to go outside for a wee that they hold onto their urine to the point that it can be dangerous. Retained urine increases the risks of blockages, particularly in male cats, and urinary tract infections which are more common in female cats. To reduce the risks, make sure you offer at least one clean litter tray in an easily accessible place, and if they’re not keen on using a tray, you may have to be cruel to be kind and put them out to do their business!

Ice

Cats are generally more cautious than dogs and are also obviously lighter so they tend to be less at risk from falling through thin ice. However where snow is covering a thin layer of ice they can be caught out and this can lead to dangerous immersion in freezing cold water.

Flea protection

Bear in mind that fleas are around all year. They love it when you turn on your central heating and make a perfect environment for their eggs to hatch. Even in winter you need to make sure that your pets and your house are treated with an effective flea product.

Rabbits

A typical hutch offers little protection from the cold, and without plenty of dry bedding rabbits can be at risk of Hypothermia. It’s generally advisable to bring rabbits indoors or at least into the garage in this weather but if they are outside, make sure you check them several times a day at least and ensure that their bedding is warm and completely dry. It is also vital that they have access to drinking water so make sure you de-ice their water regularly during the day.

Dogs

Dogs are generally tough animals with the majority of breeds having thick well-insulated coats that are very effective at keeping out the worst of the winter weather. However extreme cold and snow can present some significant risks to their health and well-being.

Hidden dangers

Heavy snow falls can hide all sorts of hidden dangers for dogs. From barbed wire to broken glass; these can lead to bruises, cuts and even broken bones. Take care on your dog walks and try sticking to well known routes to minimise the risks of unwelcome surprises from under the snow.

Visibility

As the evenings get darker dogs can benefit from high visibility wear or LED light collars. This enables motorists to see them more easily and helps you to find them once they are off the lead in dark woods!

Sliding

Dogs often don’t know when to take it easy, strains and fractures from sliding on icy patches can be a problem in icy weather. It’s worth making walkies a bit easier than normal and not throwing balls or sticks unless the ground offers secure footing.

Thin ice

Every year a number of dogs fall through thin ice and either drown or suffer from hypothermia. It’s vital to take extreme care if you walk your dog near large bodies of water such as lakes. Never ever encourage your dog onto the ice by throwing a stick as you can't be sure how thick and strong it is. If your dog does fall through the ice don’t put yourself at risk as you could easily follow them in – throw them something to climb onto and call for help from the emergency services.

Ice-balls

Not a major danger but hairy dogs in particular are prone to getting ice stuck between their toes. This can lead to bruising and pain if left to accumulate. Make sure you check your dog’s feet after any walks in snow and clean out any ice or compacted snow.

Cold

Most dogs are well insulated so the cold isn’t too much of a problem but for short haired dogs and those not used to this kind of weather it can be an issue. There are lots of winter accessories available for dogs including coats and mitts. At night make sure your dog has plenty of bedding to snuggle into as even if they are in the house temperatures can drop pretty low at night. For dogs living outside, warm bedding is obviously even more crucial, deep piles of fresh straw are one of the best insulating beddings. Only dogs who are used to living out should be left outside in this kind of weather, even for these hardy animals it’s worth considering if they would be more comfortable inside (although surprisingly many outdoor dogs actually prefer being in their cosy kennel to being in the house).

Fish

Pond fish are generally pretty good at surviving in cold weather even when ice forms on the surface of their pond. If the surface of the water remains frozen for more than a few days toxic metabolic by-products such as carbon dioxide can build up in the water so it is important to maintain a hole in the ice in longer spells of cold weather. This is best done by pouring hot water onto the ice rather than physically breaking a hole as the shock waves from this can be very distressing to fish, particularly sensitive species such as Koi carp.

Christmas dangers

Festive Plants

Poinsettia, Holly, Mistletoe and Lillies are very toxic to cats and dogs and can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Make sure they are well out of reach of your pets and check regularly for fallen leaves and berries.

Decorations

Tinsel, baubles and coloured lights may appeal to more inquisitive pets, especially young animals. Ensure they are out of reach and that your pet has plenty of their own toys to occupy them. Supervise pets near the Christmas tree at all times and take extra care to cover exposed wires. Many decorations can cause serious problems if swallowed. Cats enjoy chewing objects like pieces of string or elastic and tinsel seems to provide them an interesting and attractive sensation. However, if swallowed, all these items can cause life- threatening intestinal blockages.

Christmas treats your pet should avoid

We all enjoy our festive food, but many of the treats we enjoy can be dangerous for our pets. The Bromine in chocolate cannot be metabolised by your pet and causes heart problems, seizures and eventually death if eaten in relatively small amounts. Make sure that anything that contains chocolate is kept well out of the reach of your pets.

If you have any concerns about your pet and you're a MORE TH>N customer, you can call our friendly team at vetfone, a 24 hour free helpline manned by veterinary nurses. To learn more about our Pet Insurance or to get a quote take a look at our Pet Insurance pages Please note: we can currently only insure cats and dogs.
(Originally published on 29/11/2012)

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