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Winter Pet Safety Tips – Vet Help Direct

When the weather outside is frightful, SQPs can advise owners how to keep their pets warm and safe. With temperatures potentially about to drop in the winter months and wintery weather on the way, it is important that clients are prepared for the winter just as we are. 

We aren’t always aware of some of the added dangers lurking during the colder months, and if left outdoors in the cold for too long – pets can freeze, become disorientated, lost or injured.

Here are some winter pet safety tips to help keep you furry friends safe and warm this winter:

Prepare your dog for spending time outside, and know their limits

Many dogs enjoy wintery walks in the snow, but it’s important to understand the added risks and take precautions to keep them happy and healthy. A small area of snow could end up being deeper than it looks!

Understand your dog’s limits in the cold

Some dogs are more vulnerable to the colder weather than others. Short-coated, thin, elderly, ill or very young dogs may get cold more quickly. So, advise clients to make sure they understand their dog’s limits and adjust the time they spend outside to support this.

Prepare your dog for wintery walks 

If a dog enjoys being outdoors and you will be outside for a trip or walk in wintery weather – I have advised owners to consider getting them a warm, dry coat to help them stay warm. It’s important that all dogs are microchipped. It is advisable for owners to make sure that the chip is up-to-date. It is one of the most common issues we find – that some people forget to do this. 

When out and about…

Make sure you stay careful! You need to be seen. If you can’t walk your dog during the light, take extra precautions to stay safe on those night time walks. LED collars, hi-vis leads and coats can be great ways to make sure both client and dog will be seen. A good torch is also a must-have to light the way for walks.

Avoid winter puddles or bodies of water when outside with pets

Frozen or melting ice can pose dangers for any pet. Unfortunately you can not tell whether the frozen water can hold the dog, or if puddles contain ethylene glycol found in antifreeze, which can be fatal if ingested.

Don’t leave your pets alone in a car during cold weather

Just as you should never leave pets in a hot car, you shouldn’t leave them in a cold car either. Cars can act as refrigerators during the colder months by holding in the cold, which can cause animals to freeze and become unwell. 

Icy surfaces.

Just like us, our dogs can slip and fall on icy surfaces. Always be extra careful on walks particularly if your dog has leg problems such as arthritis as these slips can cause serious injuries. 

Frozen ponds

Be really careful when out on walks in freezing conditions, frozen ponds and lakes are dangerous but also enticing for an excited dog, but they can easily fall through the ice and get into serious trouble in the freezing water. To keep your dog safe, keep them on a lead.

Keep dogs’ paws in check

After each walk, it’s important that you dry your dog’s paws and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals. It is also good practice to check for cracks in paw pads or signs of irritation.

Don’t forget your indoor pets

For dogs and other pets that would prefer to stay indoors in colder weather, make sure they’re still getting the exercise and stimulation they need in other ways, for example by playing games indoors. If the pet is doing less exercise then it may be advisable to lower the food slightly so the pet does not increase the chance of obesity.

Keep your pet’s indoor spaces warm and cosy

You may need to review your pet’s sleeping arrangements during the winter months to ensure they stay warm. Make sure your pet has a place to sleep that is off the floor and away from drafts. A thick, cosy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is ideal!

Antifreeze is poisonous to cats and dogs – keep it out of reach!

Antifreeze could be fatal if ingested by pets – I always advise clients to make sure you keep it out of reach and you mop up any spills. If you think that your pet has ingested antifreeze, then you should seek veterinary advice immediately

Watch out for poisonous plants in and around the house

By the time winter comes, many plants lose their leaves and flowers, but there are still evergreen or winter flowering plants that can cause problems for pets.

Mistletoe and Holly are seasonal favourites, which are often brought into people’s homes or gardens over the festive period. They can pose hazards to pets, especially if the berries are eaten- ideally these should be kept away from pets as much as possible. 

Plants to avoid include:

  • Azalea/Rhododendron (Rhododendron species): Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Amaryllis (Hippeastrum species): Also present in autumn.
  • Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster species): Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica): Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Holly (Ilex species): Take care to avoid berries in the winter. Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum): Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Ivy (Hedera species): Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Laurel (including Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and other laurel species): Also present in spring, summer and autumn.
  • Mistletoe (Viscum album): Take care to avoid berries in the winter. Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Oak (Quercus pedunculata): Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
  • Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia): Also present in summer, autumn and winter.
  • Snowdrops (Galanthus): Also present in spring.
  • Yew (Taxus baccata and related species): Also present in summer, autumn and winter.

Prepare an emergency pet survival kit

As in typical British weather, we all never know when wintery weather might keep us from leaving the house for extended periods, or when you may get stuck on the roads in the middle of a snowstorm. Make sure that a family survival kit includes the pet. Having an emergency supply of pet food, towels and blankets could save your pet’s life in an emergency situation. 

Small pets and winter 

Our small pets (such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets) can really feel the cold and changes in weather. A sudden drop in temperatures can be a real shock to the system, but there are a number of things clients can do to help them:

Bring them indoors

If pets normally live outdoors, think about bringing them indoors or into a sheltered area, such as a shed or car-free garage out of the wind and protected from rain and snow – but remember they still need daylight, so make sure they have a window.

Keep away from draughts

If you can’t move small animals that usually live outdoors, indoors, then prepare their home by insulating the sides of their home with newspaper or carpet, cover open fronts to protect them from direct weather, but make sure there’s plenty of ventilation. Make sure really small pets, like hamsters or mice, are kept indoors, away from any cold draughts. Owners might need to move their enclosure to a warmer part of the house and away from windows.

Keep them cosy

All your pets (large or small!) should have some extra bedding over winter so make sure there’s plenty and it’s deep so they can snuggle right down.

SQPs and vet surgeons have a duty of care to make sure that all animals are safe. Hopefully these tips will help us all through the potentially cold winter ahead! If you have any concerns about a pet eating a plant or antifreeze, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.

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