Taking care of your pets during cold weather
This week, most of the UK has experienced freezing temperatures with ice, frost and snow falling in many areas. Unlike some countries we’re not always sure what to do when we get a bit of snow as it doesn’t happen every year and we can often find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with it. Cold weather can also pose unique challenges for your pets, but with proper care and attention, you can make sure that they stay warm and cosy even in extreme conditions! This week we’re taking a look at how to you can take care of dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs during a cold snap.
Snow dogs photo by Elina Volkova on Pexels
Taking care of your dog in cold weather
Limit outdoor time
Whilst all dogs need exercise, it's crucial to limit their outdoor time during extremely cold weather. Shorter walks and play sessions can prevent frostbite and hypothermia. Keep an eye on your pup's behaviour - if they start lifting their paws, stopping or moving very slowly or shivering excessively, it's time to head indoors. Their ears are also a good indicator of body temperature so feel to see how cold they are and read your dog’s body language to try and determine whether they are happy to be out or just trying to please you.
Protect paws from grit and salt
Ice-melting agents and salt used on roads and pavements can be harmful to your dog's paws. Clear your own pathways using a shovel to keep your pets paws safe at home. If you’re venturing out, where possible walk them in parks or the countryside where they are less likely to be exposed to salt. If you think your dog may have walked in some grit, clean their paws thoroughly when you return home and don’t allow them to clean themselves or swallow ingest any of the grit and salt which may become stuck between their paws. Some people consider using booties on their dog’s paws during cold or snowy weather but this can be distressing for them. As vet Anna Foreman explained recently to Metro:
“As long as owners wash and dry their dog’s paws thoroughly after a walk, there is no real need for outdoor boots.”
Provide a cosy retreat
If you’re worried about your dog getting cold at home, ensure that they have a warm and comfortable place to rest indoors. Consider placing extra blankets or a heated pet bed in their favourite spot. Pay attention to drafts and keep them snug during the night. A raised bed can help older dogs keep free of drafts and some extra indoor playtime or new toys can help them to stay warm indoors.
Keep them dry
Some dogs like Labradors and Spaniels love to ply in water but if it is cold outside, keep them away from water and don’t let them get wet. While your dog may seem ok when they are in the water, their body will continue to cool after they get out and this can become dangerous. Placing them at risk of hypothermia and conditions such as acute caudal myopathy, aka limber tail syndrome, which causes the tail to become limp and flaccid after having spent too much time in water.
Make sure that you prevent your dog from walking across iced-over lakes of ponds which could collapse under their weight. If you’re walking in snow, some longhaired breeds may get lots of snow sticking to their fur or compacting between their paws which can make them very cold too so just keep an eye on them and cut your walk short if you can see any potential problems arising.
Age, breed, size and other factors
According to the Independent, The specific temperature your dog can handle will vary depending on their breed, size, age, and health. If your dog is on the smaller side, it’s likely that they will feel the cold more quickly. Temperatures around -4°C and below are too cold for short-haired dogs, while long-coated dogs can handle slightly lower temperatures, down to -9°C.
Speaking to the Scotsman, Clinical Animal Behaviourist Rachel Rodgers said:
“You need to be more careful with very young dogs that have come to a new home at 8/9 weeks old, as well as older dogs. They generally have lower body fat levels and struggle to regulate their body temperature as well as younger adult dogs.
“Dogs over the age of 8 have an 80% chance of having arthritis and conditions like this worsen when they are cold. There are also health conditions you need to consider, such as diabetes, heart failure and kidney disease. These conditions put dogs at a higher risk so owners will need to take extra care in the colder months. This also applies to dogs with short or no hair.”
Dog breeds that are susceptible to the cold
Short-haired breeds, such as Beagles, smaller dogs like Daschunds or Chihuahuas or naturally lean dogs like Greyhounds or Whippets with less body fat may struggle in the cold. Larger dogs, such as Great Danes and or Dalmatians, are also not great in very cold weather. It's essential to be mindful of their comfort and consider investing in a doggy jumper or jacket to keep them warm during walks.
Dog breeds that are well-suited to the cold
On the other hand, some breeds thrive in colder climates. Huskies, Malamutes, and Saint Bernards, for example, have thick, double coats that provide excellent insulation. These breeds often enjoy the winter weather, but even they need protection during extreme conditions.
Cat photo by Rubaitul Azad on Pexels
Taking care of your cat in cold weather
While some cats may enjoy a snowy adventure, it's generally safer to keep them indoors during cold weather. Provide a cosy bed or blanket in a quiet corner, or possibly an elevated position away from drafts, to create a warm retreat.
Monitor Outdoor Time
If your cat insists on going outside, monitor their time outside closely. Avoid letting them out during extreme weather conditions or heavy snowfall. Frostbite and hypothermia can affect cats just as easily as dogs. The PDSA advises that you should keep your cats indoors overnight during cold weather. Make sure that they can always get back indoors safely at all times, though a cat flap or other entrance and that there is somewhere warm and dry for them to sit outdoors if they insist on going outside.
Check for Hiding Spots
Cats may seek warmth in the engine bays of cars. Before starting your vehicle in the winter, give the hood a gentle tap or honk the horn to alert any hidden feline visitors.
Keep them hydrated
Ensure your cat has access to fresh water at all times. In colder weather, cats may be less inclined to drink, so check their water bowl regularly and consider warming the water slightly.
Snow rabbit photo by Wild Shots Photography on Pexels
Taking care of rabbits and guinea pigs in cold weather
A sudden drop in temperature can be a shock to the system for smaller animals and rabbits and guinea pigs are particularly sensitive to the cold. If possible, provide them with a warm, indoor environment during the winter months. Move their cages to a draft-free area, away from windows and doors. A shed or car-free garage is great to protect them from drafts. Or even better somewhere indoors without heating – such as a utility room is even better. Keep the radiators off in this room as a big jump from outdoor to indoor temperature can make them poorly too. If you don’t have a suitable indoor space then place a banket or piece of carpet over any areas of the hutch that are exposed to the elements, such as their living quarters.
Bedding and insulation
Increase the amount of bedding in their cages to provide extra insulation. Hay is an excellent insulator and also serves as a tasty treat. Ensure their living quarters are dry too, as dampness can lead to respiratory issues.
If your rabbits or guinea pigs share a cage, their body heat can help keep them warm. Just ensure they have enough space to move around comfortably.
Limited outdoor exposure
While some rabbits are hardy in cold weather, it's advisable to limit their time outdoors during extreme conditions. If they do venture out, provide a sheltered area with hay for insulation. Or bring them indoor for some exercise in a cool room.
Snowy dog walk photo by Daniel Frank on Pexels
Caring for pets in cold weather involves a combination of awareness, preparation, and attention to each pet’s unique needs. By understanding the specific requirements of dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs during the winter months, you can ensure a happy and healthy season for your beloved companions. A little extra care goes a long way in making sure our furry friends stay warm and content throughout the winter.
Main photo by Aleksandr Nadyojin on Pexels