We’re well and truly into the winter season, and with that we’ve already experienced some pretty chilly temperatures, with more forecast to come as we get towards Christmas and beyond. But what is the advice for pet owners when temperatures drop? We’ve outlined some important information below to help you and your furry friends in the colder months.
General Pet Advice
- Keep pets away from antifreeze and de-icer, which can be fatal if ingested.
- Keep pets away from poisonous plants such as holly, ivy, and poinsettia.
- Provide extra comfy spaces and blankets around the house for your dogs and cats.
- Some dogs might need to wear a coat or jumper during the winter, particularly short-coated breeds
- Light-up collars and hi-vis leads could be particularly beneficial with the shorter days, meaning more walks in the dark.
- Salt and grit can irritate your dog’s paws – wash their paws once back from your walk. Wipe their legs, feet and stomach after walks as good practice in winter.
- Snowy paws are an additional issue – snow can build up and cause them discomfort; keep paw hair trimmed and soak off snow in warm water once back from your walk.
- Keep dogs warm – perhaps move their bed to a warmer part of the house and provide thick blankets.
- Keep your dog active with walks in winter, but if the weather is preventing activity then drop how much food you’re giving. An alternative to walks when the weather is bad is to engage in enrichment activities, such as a hunt for treats, as well as learning new tricks.
- Keep your dogs away from frozen ponds by making sure they’re on a lead. Similarly, when it’s snowing there may be hidden dangers beneath the snow, so keep them on the lead to prevent any injuries.
- Just as it’s dangerous to leave a dog in a hot car, never leave your dog in the car when temperatures are low either.
- If your dog is lifting their feet, whining, or stopping walking as their paws are too cold, it could be a good idea to get them some booties – these will protect their paws, but can be hard to get used to so it’s best to introduce dogs to them gradually.
- It’s always important to ensure your dog is wearing a collar with an ID tag and is microchipped.
- Double check under your cars, as cats often shelter here in cold and wet weather. They could also climb into the bonnet so give this a knock before driving off.
- Keep a couple of litter trays inside so cats can stay in if the weather is particularly bad.
- When it’s very cold, it is best to try to keep your cats inside – it’s not always possible to do this so ensure that there is shelter outside the house in case the cat flap is blocked by snow or frozen over.
- It’s a good idea to move your cat to a warmer room in the house when there’s low temperatures outside – also keep their bedding warm, dry, and away from draughts.
- When your cat returns from being out in the rain or snow, dry them off well.
- Wash their paws when they come back inside in case they walked through any salt grit, which is toxic when eaten.
Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Ferrets, and Hamsters
- A drop in temperature can be a real shock to these pets, so it’s important to keep them warm – all small pets require extra bedding in the colder months (soft straw is recommended as it’s more insulating than hay – make sure it’s kept dry and replaced regularly). If you’re able to, bring your pets from outside into a sheltered areas away from rain or snow (sheds/garages rather than a heated house as this could be too much of a contrast) – they will still require access to natural light and fresh air.
- If keeping the hutch/run outside is the only option, drape material over the mesh to keep out rain, snow and wind. Microwavable heat pads can also be useful! Rabbits/guinea pigs will still need access to their run so they can exercise.
- Regularly check water bottles so that they’re not frozen – a water bowl could be provided as well.
- Keeping rabbits/guinea pigs in pairs can be a good idea in winter so they can help each other keep warm.
- Ensure your hutch/run is strong enough to keep out foxes and badgers.
- Horses don’t feel the cold as much as we do, but it’s worth knowing the signs that your horse could be cold: lethargy; tucked stance; cold to touch; smaller appetite; behaviour changes; colic; and extreme shivering. Check up on your horse regularly.
- Make sure your horses water supply is not frozen – remove ice rather than simply breaking it up. Provide water in buckets instead of using the automatic drinkers as these can freeze quite easily.
- Some horses may benefit from a rug during the winter months (in particular thoroughbreds, Arab horses, fully clipped horses, old/ill/arthritic/underweight horses). Ensure the rug is of a suitable weight for your horse – for some horses a rain sheet in wet weather is enough. Rugs should be removed every day to be readjusted – always have a spare rug to swap out in case one is drenched. Over-rugging can make your horse sweaty and damp, which can lead to rug rub or infections, so make sure you regularly check if they’re getting too warm.
- When riding, if your horse is sweated up they could easily catch a chill in winter.
- Wear reflective clothing when riding.
- Make sure your horse has access to shelter – check field shelters and consider additional windbreaks, such as hedgerows and trees. Ensure there is a dry resting area away from mud.
- Provide additional feed as grass can often be sparse.
- In wet, muddy weather, check hooves regularly for abscesses and loose shoes.
- Mud fever is a particular concern in winter, a non-contagious skin condition that affects horses’ lower legs, causing scabs that can get infected. To prevent it, regularly check for scabs and swelling around lower legs, heels, and hooves. Wait for muddy legs to dry and brush away the mud rather than washing it off. You could add woodchip or mats to muddy areas as well.
- Sheep are pretty well-accustomed to dealing with cold weather, but nevertheless it is important to provide access to good shelter and sufficient feed and forage. This is particularly important for ewes with young lambs.
- Additional forage can boost energy reserves, while bales can be used for shelter.
- Check troughs aren’t frozen and ensure regular access to water.
- Check medicines and vaccines are stored at the correct temperature and don’t freeze.
- Trim hooves every two months – this helps prevent against damage caused by ice fragments.
- Ensure your barn is well-ventilated.
- Know the signs of hypothermia: a lamb will look weak, gaunt, hunched up, have a cold mouth and ears. Warm lambs up with heated colostrum/milk replacement.
- Use heat lamps or place lambs in a warming box.
- Make sure cattle are well fed to provide them with energy to generate body heat.
- Ensure there is water available – check troughs so they’re not frozen over.
- Shelter is crucial in cold weather: three-sided sheds in fields allow respite from bad weather, while trees can work as windbreaks.
- Mud can pose issues – it can lead to foot rot and thrush, while it prevents cattle from staying warm when covered in mud. Add gravel or woodchips to muddy patches.
- Pregnant cattle will require special attention in winter, such as deworming and nutritional supplements.