Emergency vets issue ‘cold weather’ warning to pet owners as temperatures plummet

Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures are causing huge disruption to the general public.

But don’t forget extreme wintry weather is also a threat to our pets, with dogs, cats, rabbits and other small pets all at risk during cold snaps.

Our emergency vets have put together some tips for keeping your pets safe and warm this winter.

1. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet

Keep your pets inside, especially overnight, when temperatures plummet, otherwise they run the risk of getting frostbite or hypothermia. If your pet is showing signs of either of these, contact your vet immediately. Remember, too, that temperatures indoors can also plummet. If you’re out, try to make sure temperatures in your home can never fall below a reasonable level (around 20C).

2. Go on shorter, more frequent walks

It’s worth considering taking your dog on shorter, more frequent walks to protect them from weather-associated health risks.

3. Wash and dry your pet’s feet following walks

Salt and chemicals used to grit roads and pavements can be an irritant to your pet’s pads, especially if they have any small cracks or redness between the toes, so always wipe their paws with a cloth and warm water when you get home.

An image of a husky dog playing with its owner in the snow for Vets Now article on how to keep your pet warm in freezing weather
Vets have issued a cold weather warning to pet owners as temperatures plummet

4. Don’t let your pet fall victim to antifreeze

Antifreeze poisoning is a major hazard during cold snaps, especially if it leaks from a car’s radiator or spills on the ground while being sprayed on frozen car windows. Remove ice from vehicles using an old-fashioned scraper, keep containers of antifreeze locked away and clean up any spills quickly, as even small amounts can be deadly.

5. Keep a close eye on your car

Cats who are allowed outside during cold spells may try to cosy up on a warm vehicle engine. Check underneath your car and bang on the bonnet before starting the engine to make sure you don’t have a feline hitchhiker.

6. Swot up on your pet’s breed

Just like humans, some pets, such as husky dogs and Persian cats, are more tolerant to cold weather than others. Make sure you do your homework on your breed. For example, Dobermans, chihuahuas and great Danes require a little extra protection in the cold. Short-nosed pets are also more at risk from extreme temperatures due to inherited breathing difficulties.

An image of a young girl cuddling a rabbit outside in the snow for Vets Now article on how to keep your pet warm in winter
Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures pose a serious threat to your pet

7. Consider a sweater or coat

It’s a myth that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold just because they have fur. Even long-haired pets are at risk in cold weather. Consider putting a dry sweater on your pet before going outside and always take spares in case they get wet.

8. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar and is microchipped

Pets are more at risk of becoming lost and disoriented in snowy or blizzard conditions. Ensure your dog or cat’s identification tag and microchip details are up-to-date and relevant.

9. Beware of heat stroke

Believe it or not, short-nosed dogs, in particular, are at risk of suffering heat stroke if they exercise vigorously in freezing temperatures and then settle in a warm house. Read Charlie’s story to find out more.

An image of a dog looking happy playing outside in the snow for Vets Now article on how to keep your pet warm in winter
If it's too cold for you, it's probably too cold for your pet

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10. Avoid icy lakes and ponds

Steer clear of water that has frozen over. There is no guarantee it will support the weight of your pet. If your dog or cat falls through ice it may be deadly.

11. Feed your pets well

Pets who spend long periods outside may require more calories in the winter to generate enough energy to keep them warm – talk to your daytime vet about your pet’s nutritional needs. But don’t overfeed them.

12. Watch out for icy steps, roads and pavements

Older pets, particularly those with arthritis or mobility issues, are at risk of slipping and injuring themselves on slippery surfaces, especially steps or when jumping in or out of vehicles.

An image of a cat sitting outside in the snow for Vets Now article on how to keep your pet warm in winter
Pets who spend long periods outside such as cats may require more calories in colder temperatures

13. Make sure your pet has access to fresh water

It’s common sense but you should check your pet’s water bowl regularly and fill it up whenever it’s low. Few animals can survive for long without hydration, especially in extreme temperatures. You should also be careful not to let your pet’s water bowl freeze over.

14. Beware of hazards covered in snow

Our emergency vets have treated pets who have injured themselves falling into potholes covered in snow or from hurtling into snow-laden rocks and steps.

15. Be prepared for cold weather

If the weather forecasters predict an extreme cold snap or snow and blizzards, make sure you have a pet emergency plan in place. This includes stocking up on food and any prescription medication, knowing who to call in an emergency and how you might travel to the vet in an emergency.