Pet care advice for Winter

Staying safe on winter dog walks

Dogs need regular outdoor exercise all year round and usually aren’t put off by bad weather. Here are some tips for staying safe with your dog this winter:

  • Be seen and not hurt – reflective clothing for you and your dog can help you stay safe on dark winter morning and evening walks.
  • Walk your dog in daylight hours wherever possible.
  • Keep your dog on a lead unless in a totally traffic-free area.
  • Consider getting a winter coat for dogs with thin, fine hair. A coat might also be helpful to older dogs or dogs who’ve got joint problems like arthritis.
  • Towel dry your dog after snowy or rainy walks. You can also dry them with a hairdryer – keep it on a low heat setting and held some distance away from your dog.
  • Stop clumps of snow gathering on your dog’s paws by trimming the hair between their toes or training them to wear doggy boots.
  • Don’t keep your dog outside in freezing temperatures without access to shelter or warmth.
  • Don’t leave them in a car – even a few minutes in a cold car can cause hypothermia.

Keeping cats active and safe in winter

Dark winter nights can be a danger to your cat and many of our feline friends prefer to stay in out of the cold and wet. Here are our vets tips to keep them safe but active this winter:

  • Keep cats in at night when they’re more at risk from road traffic accidents.
  • Stop your cat becoming a coach potato by playing games with them. Cats love to chase and pounce.
  • Create an activity centre for them full of cat-safe toys and scratching posts.
  • Hide a favourite toy and encourage your cat to hunt it out.

Keeping small pets warm in winter

Our small pets really feel the cold, so here’s how to give them a warm winter:

  • Bring rabbits and guinea pigs indoors – make sure they’re kept away from other pets, stressful noises, and smoky atmospheres.
  • If you can’t bring them indoors, you could move their outdoor to a shed or garage – make sure the area is car-free because exhaust fumes can be fatal.
  • Even in cold weather, rabbits and guinea pigs need natural light and exercise. Give them an outdoor exercise run to use.
  • Keep their hutch dry and well ventilated. Put a blanket or piece of carpet over the hutch to help keep it warm.
  • Give them some extra warm bedding and change it at least twice a week.
  • Check their water bottles every day to make sure they aren’t frozen.

Don’t forget your small pets this festive season and let them join in the fun! Offer them some of their favourite food wrapped in brown paper. Figuring out how to get to the food is a great challenge to occupy their inquisitive minds and stops them getting bored.

Keeping chickens cosy

  • Healthy chickens with lots of thick feathers are able to cope with most cold weather.
  • If your chickens have a bluish or very cold comb, they’ll need extra protection from winter weather. You can cover their coop with old carpet, blankets, bubble wrap or flattered cardboard to give them extra insulation. A deep layer of straw or wood shavings on the floor will also help keep your birds warm.
  • If you have a few birds in a large coop, put a cardboard box on its side in the corner of their coop and half fill it with chopped straw or wood shavings. They can snuggle up in here to make the most of each other’s’ body heat. Check on them after dark to make sure they’re sleeping together in the box.
  • If your chicken has a large, floppy comb it might get frostbite. Smear the comb with Vaseline to help prevent this.
  • It’s really important that your chickens have access to fresh water. Bring drinkers in at night and refill them in the morning with warm water, which hens enjoy. Top them up with more warm water during the day.
  • Give them a warm meal by mixing crumble or pellets with hot water.
  • Feed your hens extra corn in the afternoon. This will warm them up from the inside as they digest it overnight.
  • Make sure your hens have shelter in their outside run - they dislike the wind and rain as much as we do! Help keep your hens out of the wind by putting wooden board, plastic sheets or hay bales against the side of their run most likely to get the wind. Provide a covered area so they can get out of the rain.
  • If it gets really cold and you have an outbuilding with an electricity supply, you can set up heat lamps or oil filled radiators to warm your hens up. Only do this to lessen the chill for hens with patchy feathers and don’t let the outbuilding get too warm.
  • Cold weather and snow means other animals are hungry too. Make sure food is stored safely away from rats and mice, especially at night. Hungry foxes are more daring in winter, so regularly check your coop is safe and secure.

Hypothermia in pets

Hypothermia can set in after just a few minutes in freezing temperatures and can be deadly. Our pets are more at risk than we are because they’re so much smaller than us.

Prevent hypothermia by making sure your pet always has somewhere warm and dry to shelter. Don’t leave dogs in the car – the temperature can quickly drop and cause hypothermia.

What to do if you’re worried your pet could have hypothermia:

  • Act quickly and correctly – it could save your pet’s life.
  • Immediately remove your pet from the cold.
  • Warming up too quickly can be dangerous so take your pet somewhere warm but not very hot.
  • Call your vet and follow their advice.
  • Dry them gently with a towel if they are wet.
  • Gradually raise your pet’s body temperature: use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel or a hair dryer on a low heat, held about 30cm away from your pet.
  • Your vet will probably advise bringing your pet in for an appointment. It’s important to do this, even if your pet seems to have recovered.

Christmas pet survival guide

Christmas can be a puzzling and stressful time for pets with lots of visitors and distractions in our homes. Help keep them calm and safe by following out vets’ tips:

Create a pet den

  • A pet den will give them somewhere safe and calm to go to if they start feeling stressed.
  • For dogs, build their den behind a sofa in a quiet room.
  • Cats feel safest when they’re up high, so place their den on a shelf or on top of a chest of drawers.
  • Once you’ve created a den, encourage your pet to use it by giving them healthy treats when they go to their den. They’ll soon see the den as a pleasurable and calm place to relax in!
  • Place a pheromone diffuser nearby. This gives off calming scents which only pets can smell.

Coping with Christmas decorations

  • A Christmas tree looks like a playground to our pets, full of shiny decorations and flashing lights. But pets can injure themselves as they explore.
  • Supervise your pet in rooms containing trees and presents: keep an eye on them as you would a young child.
  • Keep doors closed when you’re not around.
  • Distract them by allocating some ‘pet playtime’ instead, with suitable toys. Take dogs out for a good run around and play with your cat using fishing rod-type toys.
  • Keep wrapping paper and gifts out of the reach of pets. If your pet accidentally swallows something they’re not meant to, it could lead to a Christmas trip to the vets!

Kitchen hazards at Christmas

  • Keep kitchen doors closed so pets can’t get under your feet. With a big Christmas dinner on the go, full of hot ovens and boiling pots and pans, they are more hazardous places than usual.
  • Keep Christmas food out of the way of pets. Not only can human food lead to your pet piling on the pounds, it could be poisonous. See a full list of poisonous foods here.
  • Avoid feeding your pet bones as they could choke.

Car journeys

  • If you’re taking pets with you when you visit family, make sure they’re kept safe in your car.
  • Use pet seat-belts and harnesses for large pets and secured pet carriers for smaller pets
  • Read our advice on travelling with pets here.

Winter walkies

Make sure your pets are safe during the long winter evenings. Shop on our online pet store for reflective collars, harnesses and leads. 

Be seen and not hurt

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Pet boarding, kennels and holiday care

Going away for the Christmas break? Read our advice on finding the right holiday care for your pet. 

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