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Vets offer advice for protecting pets from the cold weather

by Mark Nolan
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Dog in the snow

After the temperatures dropped in the UK, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) issued a warning to pet owners to take measures to protect their pets from a series of winter risks that could cause serious illness.

For British vets, prolonged exposure to extreme cold and accidental ingestion of antifreeze and chemicals are among the most concerning.

For this reason, the BVA published a series of tips, which can be useful this winter for all owners, to help keep dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other pets “warm and safe during the winter months.”

“When it’s cold for us, it’s cold for our pets, so it’s important to take extra precautions to keep them safe and warm,” explained BVA Senior Vice President Justine Shotton.

The vet has pointed out that during the colder months, dogs and cats need easy shelter and a cosy den, and while dogs will still need exercise, owners should take precautions to protect them from the cold.

“Antifreeze is a huge danger to cats, so contact your vet immediately if you notice signs of poisoning such as vomiting, depression, incoordination, seizures, and difficulty breathing,” Shotton warns.

He has also stressed that rabbits and guinea pigs are also vulnerable to hypothermia despite their fur, so owners must take steps to ensure that outdoor rabbit hutches are well protected from snow, cold drafts and the winter rain.

“If you have any concerns about your pet in this cold season, please consult your local vet for advice,” recommends the BVA’s senior vice president.


Take precautions during and after walks, is the first piece of advice from British veterinarians. Dogs still need exercise in the cold months, but older dogs or those with fine hair should be considered in a coat to keep them warm during walks.

“Wipe your dog’s paws and belly when you come home from a snowy walk to remove any ice or salt and check regularly for cracks in the paw pads or redness between the toes. Grit or rock salt can be extremely toxic to dogs and cats if ingested,” veterinarians warn.

They then point out that antifreeze poisoning must be avoided. Cleaning your pet’s paws can prevent it from ingesting toxins it may have stepped on while outside.

“Antifreeze, in particular, is very toxic to cats, even in small amounts. Aside from its use in automobile radiators and de-icing products, some cases are believed to be related to ingestion of diluted anti-freeze used in ornamental fountains to protect pumps. Store and use antifreeze products carefully and thoroughly clean up any spills.

Likewise, they consider that it is necessary to provide a warm shelter without drafts. In this way, the owner should ensure that the dog’s bed is in a warm place, free of drafts and isolated from the floor of the house and cover it with one or two more blankets.

“Consider keeping older cats indoors during snaps of extreme cold and providing young, healthy cats with easy access to shelter and warmth,” they stress.


Rabbits and guinea pigs should be in a place protected from wind, rain and snow, and at least 10 cm from the ground, is the following recommendation from veterinarians. “Line the hutch with newspaper, put a lot of hay in it and cover it with an old quilt, blanket or tarp,” they point out.

Rabbits need a temperature between 10ºC and 20ºC (the lower temperature assumes rabbits are healthy and living with other rabbits, with plenty of bedding for warmth) and guinea pigs need between 5ºC and 20ºC, avoiding significant temperature fluctuations.

“If the weather becomes very harsh, consider moving outdoor pets indoors, to a well-ventilated space with light and space to exercise,” British vets say.

On the other hand, reptiles and amphibians should be kept in temperature controlled indoor environments.

They also stress that you have to take care of the horses. “Avoid sudden changes in your horse’s management and diet in winter. The use of blankets will depend on the breed of the horse and whether or not they are clipped; the owners must be vigilant to prevent them from shrinking excessively”, they recall.

Finally, you have to check the water sources. “Regularly check water bottles, bowls or outdoor drinkers, as they can freeze when temperatures drop,” they conclude.

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