Good for pets health

Keeping pets active and happy in winter is good for their health – and ours! That’s the seasonal message from leading veterinary charity PDSA.

Could you spot the signs of hypothermia (low body temperature)? In severe cases your pet won’t display telltale signs such as shivering. But it will be disorientated and lethargic with shallow breathing and a slow heart rate. Never leave a pet in the car: just a few minutes can lead to hypothermia.

When temperatures tumble small breeds, puppies and older dogs are most likely to suffer from hypothermia, particularly when wet. And whippets, greyhounds and other dogs with low body fat or thin coats are high risk.


Winter coats are recommended, but remember that salt and grit can damage your dog’s feet, as can ice. Doggy boots will help protect your dog’s feet.

Download our Winter check-list

To help you keep your pets in peak condition, PDSA has winter pet health advice all wrapped up. Download PDSA Winter check-list (PDF - 149 KB) for pets for tips on safe dog walking, indoor play and exercise and overcoming the chill factor when Jack Frost calls.

Christmas pet survival guide

The festive season means our pets can suddenly find their home filled with intriguing decorations, unfamiliar food and noisy houseguests. Although we may enjoy this festive fun, all this extra hustle and bustle can be stressful, and possibly even hazardous for our pets.
Here are some tips to help make Christmas for your pets less stressful:

Create a den

To help minimise any stress, make a quiet, cosy ‘den’ for your pet in advance – behind a sofa in a quiet room is ideal for dogs, while cats feel safest when high up, so a cat bed placed securely on a shelf or chest of drawers may be preferred. 
Give them healthy treats or praise when they are relaxed in  the den so they learn to view it as a pleasurable and calm place to be, and can escape from the comings and goings if things get too busy for them.  A pheromone diffuser (calming scents which our pets can smell but we cannot) placed nearby can also help to keep them relaxed.

Coping with Christmas decorations

Pets can be tempted to explore Christmas trees and play with shiny decorations and flashing lights, but this can result in injuries if they are left to their own devices. Why not allocate some ‘pet playtime’ instead, with suitable toys?  Take dogs out for a good run around, or play with your cat using fishing rod-type toys. It’s a good idea to supervise your pet in rooms containing trees, and keep doors closed when you’re not around.
After opening presents there can be wrappings, wires, toys and batteries left lying around.  These can be choking hazards as pets often explore new objects with their mouths, whilst batteries can also cause internal burns if they are swallowed and start leaking. Remove tempting items from the floor and keep an eye on your pet as you would a young child.

Kitchen hazards

With hot ovens and boiling pots and pans, the kitchen is always a hazardous place for pets, but with a big dinner on the go and extra mouths to feed it can be even more dangerous on Christmas day. Keep kitchen doors closed so pets can’t get under your feet.

Christmas food

While enjoying a post-Christmas lunch afternoon snooze, our pets may use this opportunity to sniff out an extra treat. However, human food not only contributes towards pet obesity, it can also prove dangerous. Pets can choke on turkey bones, whilst some foods such as onions, raisins and certain nuts can even be poisonous. Watch out for sage and onion stuffing, Christmas cake, chocolate and mince pies.

Car journeys

Many of us will be visiting relatives over Christmas, and it’s just as important for our pets to buckle up and use a seatbelt as it is for us. Unrestrained pets can cause distractions, and can cause and receive significant injuries if the car is involved in an accident.  Pet seat-belts and harnesses are available for larger pets, or use a secured pet carrier for smaller pets.

Coping with freezing temperatures

Hypothermia is caused by exposure to cold weather and can occur after just a few minutes in freezing temperatures. Due to their smaller size, our pets are even more susceptible to this life-threatening condition than we are.

What to do if you suspect hypothermia

Prevention is always better than cure, so keep an eye on your pets and make sure they always have access to shelter and warmth. Susceptible dogs should wear a suitable dog coat when out in colder weather. However, if you suspect your pet is suffering from hypothermia, acting quickly and correctly could save your pet’s life.
  • Immediately remove your pet from the cold environment and take them into warm, but not hot, surroundings. Warming up too quickly can be harmful.
  • Call your vet practice and follow any  advice you are given
  • Ensure your pet is dry – if they are wet then dry them gently with a towel
  • Gradually raise your pet’s body temperature, either using a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, or a hair dryer on a low heat. Keep the hair dryer moving and hold it at a distance from your pet’s fur, as you would for yourself.
  • Your vet will probably advise bringing your pet in for an appointment, and it’s important to do this even if your pet seems to have recovered.

First Aid

Knowing what to do in any emergency can mean the difference between life and death, and it’s no different for our pets. Over the festive season it’s more important than ever to make sure you are well prepared in case your pet suffers an accident or injury. 
Take a look at the first aid section on the website or download the first aid leaflet (PDF - 4.65 MB).

Small pets

Don’t forget about smaller pets either – rats, rabbits and ferrets, for example, can be included in the festivities by you offering them some of their favourite food wrapped in brown paper. The challenge of figuring out how to get to the food is an excellent way of occupying their inquisitive minds. This is called ‘environmental enrichment’ which is a term that is often associated with zoos. Good zoos use relevant objects and puzzle feeders to improve the wellbeing of their animals, but preventing boredom is equally important for our pets.
Small pets, such as guinea pigs and rabbits, also need special care in winter, even on Christmas Day. They are particularly susceptible to temperature changes because of their size.
  • Guinea pigs should be housed indoors during the winter months. A warm shed or a car-free garage is ideal, but they should still have access to natural light and an exercise run.
  • If the weather becomes very cold, rabbits, like guinea pigs, should be moved in to a warm shed or car-free garage.
  • Provide extra bedding in the hutch to help keep small animals warm.
  • Put a blanket or piece of carpet over the hutch to help keep it warm, but make sure this doesn’t obstruct the ventilation.
  • Check water bottles every day to make sure they aren’t frozen.
  • If you have to move the hutch in to your house, make sure you keep it away from other pets, stressful noises and smoky atmospheres.


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