Pet Insurance

How to keep your pet safe in cold weather - vets warn of toxic grit and other hazards

As cold weather hits the UK, vets have given their advice for keeping dogs, cats and rabbits safe.

Snow and ice are forecast across the country in a new cold snap that could last until Friday, according to the Met Office.

Met Office senior meteorologist Alex Burkill said on Monday: "It's fair to say it's cold today, cold tonight, cold tomorrow and cold through much of the week really.

"Snow showers will continue across parts of Scotland, particularly in the north, probably seeding into Northern Ireland too."

He said temperatures will be in the low single figures with showery rain, sleet and snow continuing into Thursday.

The British Veterinary Association has given tips to look out for pets during the cold weather.

Know the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning: Antifreeze is toxic for cats and can be found in ornamental water features as well as around cars and de-icing products. Not only could anti-freeze be ingested through drinking, cats could pick up substances on their paws while walking, so make sure to wipe feet when they come back inside.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning, according to the RSPCA, include vomiting, appearing 'drunk', depressed or sleepy, seizures and difficulty breathing. Rock salt is also a risk for cats, so clean their paws when the gritters have been out too.

Dog walk safety: When walking dogs in colder weather, consider a coat for older pets or dogs with thin fur. Wipe your dog's paws and bellies to remove ice or salt and check paw pads for cracks or redness between toes.

Check water access: Ensure cats and dogs have water to drink indoors, and check outdoor bottles, bowls and troughs regularly for frozen water.

Ensure their resting places are warm: Keep beds in draught-free spots and insulated from the cold floor with extra blankets. Make sure there is easy access to shelter and warmth. Older cats may need to be kept indoors during particularly cold snaps. For those with rabbits or guinea pigs outside, keep hutches in a sheltered position at least 10cm off the ground.

The BVA says: "Line them with plenty of newspaper, provide lots of hay and cover the hutch with an old duvet, blanket or tarpaulin. Rabbits need a temperature between 10⁰C - 20⁰C (the lower temperature assumes rabbits are healthy and kept with other rabbits, with lots of bedding for warmth) and guinea pigs need 5⁰C - 20⁰C, avoiding significant fluctuations in temperature. If the weather becomes very severe, consider moving outdoor pets inside to a well-ventilated space with light and room to exercise."

Justine Shotton, BVA senior vice president, said: “During the coldest months, dogs and cats need easy access to 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 hazard for cats, so contact your vet immediately if you see signs of poisoning such as vomiting, depression, lack of coordination, seizures and difficulty breathing.

“Rabbits and guinea pigs are also vulnerable to hypothermia despite their warm coats, so owners should take steps to ensure any outdoor hutches are well protected from the snow, cold draughts and winter rain."

As well as pets at risk during cold weather, driving conditions can be treacherous with the risk of ice.

Rod Dennis, RAC spokesman, said: "After last week's flooded roads, it's now ice that poses the biggest danger to drivers.

"Anyone setting out needs to be particularly careful when driving on rural or other quiet roads which haven't been gritted - key as always is slowing down so that drivers have as much time as possible to react should their cars lose grip.

"And, although this week's cold snap will be much briefer than the freezing conditions we saw in December that led to the RAC's busiest week ever, we're still expecting to see a big increase in breakdowns.

"Batteries failing in the cold will be the top reason for calling us out, but people whose cars do start are most likely to need our help with tyre problems."


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Helen Barnett

Helen is a journalist, editor and copywriter with 15 years' experience writing across print and digital publications. She previously edited the Daily Express website and has won awards as a reporter. Read more here.