10 Top Tips for Keeping Your Pets Safe in Winter
Winter is here which means winterizing your garden, car, home and pets.
That’s right, when it comes to winter, there are plenty of precautions you should take to ensure your cats and dogs are comfortable and healthy.
One thing to remember before we dive in is that every pet is different. Some of these tips may not be suitable for your pet and that’s fine. They’re your family after all, so you know their individual limitations.
Below are 10 top tips for keeping your pets safe in winter
- Book a wellness check-up with your vet
- Reduce walk times
- Be wary for signs of hypothermia
- Wrap them up in warm clothing
- Make your pet visible
- Take great care of their paws
- Ensure their collar and tag are up to date
- Don’t leave your pet in the car
- Prevent poisoning by avoiding anti-freeze products
- Keep an emergency kit with you
Let’s delve into each tip a little further.
Book a wellness check-up with your vet
We recommended that you take your pet to the vet for an annual check every year before winter arrives.
A thorough examination will find any serious issues like diabetes or heart conditions, as well as slightly more minor conditions like mild arthritis, all of which will have symptoms that can worsen in cold weather.
After the examination, your vet will recommend a programme designed to keep your pet healthy through the winter. This plan may include vaccinations, exercise routines and diet etc. that must stick to in order to reduce the risk of your pet having an accident or illness.
Reduce walk times
You could say this one’s a given.
When the rain is pouring and the wind is howling, it really isn’t in your pet’s best interest to go on your usual 2-hour Saturday morning walk in the countryside.
Of course, your pet needs regular exercise, especially dog breeds like Labradors, Border Collies or Golden Retrievers, so you won’t want to abandon exercise altogether.
To keep up their exercise whilst limiting their exposure to the harsh weather, there are a few things you can try.
- Find a shorter more stimulating walk e.g. choose somewhere they haven’t been before with different plants and wildlife to awaken their senses
- Find a walk with less exposure to the environments like wooded areas
- Make them work for their food/treats. One way of doing this is hiding their food in a fun but tricky toy that will keep them entertained whilst testing their brain
- Indoor training – this could be the perfect opportunity to train your pet to do that trick you’ve always wanted them to do
- Use a pet treadmill – Make sure you seek professional advice on what treadmill to get and how to use them safely
Find out more about indoor exercise options in our blog 8 Ways to Exercise Your Pet Indoors.
Be wary for signs of hypothermia
Hypothermia is a very serious condition for pets which is brought on by exposure to cold temperatures which rapidly reduces body heat.
Common causes of hypothermia include, but aren't limited to, wet fur or skin, shock, or being in cold water.
The after effects of hypothermia can be very serious, including life altering issues such as neurological problems, heart problems, kidney failure and even death, so it is vital you know the signs and how to avoid it (Following all the points in this blog will help).
If your pet is exposed to the environment either on walks or in your garden, you must keep a watchful eye on them and act fast if they start showing any of the common symptoms below.
- Strong uncontrollable shivering
- Acting sleepy, weak or lethargic
- Body temperature is below 35°C (buy a thermometer from your local pet store if you don’t have one)
- Decreased heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty breathing
- Body is cold to the touch
- Inner eyelids and gums are pale or blue
If you think your pet may have hypothermia, you must follow these steps:
- Remove your pet from the cold environment immediately
- Place them in the warmest room in your house
- Dry their whole body as quick as possible using towels or hair dryers. When using hair dryers, be careful not to burn them by using a high heat or holding it too close to their body
- Wrap pet in dry blankets or a similar item
- Wrap towels around warm hot water bottles and hold them against your pet’s abdomen
- Periodically check your pet’s temperature. If it goes below 35°C, take them to a vet immediately
- Whilst you’re following the above steps, have someone call your vet for advice
Wrap them up in warm clothing
No matter the breed, you must treat your furry friends to some outdoor clothes to reduce the risk of hypothermia.
Some breeds are naturally gifted with thick layers of fur that will help protect them from the cold to a certain extent, but even they will eventually get cold, especially in harsh conditions.
On the other side of the spectrum you have tiny dogs like chihuahuas which have short fur so need a thicker extra layer.
You also need to consider your pet’s size – is it possible that their belly could brush through the snow or wet grass? If so, they must have a coat that protects their underside which is one of the most vulnerable parts of their body when it comes to body heat.
Another item to consider is doggy boots to protect their highly vulnerable paws. Good quality boots will keep their paws both warm and dry, which is vital for their overall health and comfort.
Just think, if you’re about to leave the house and put a coat and boots on, your dog needs them too.
When you return home, or during a walk if necessary, you must remove any wet clothing from your pet immediately as this puts them at a high risk of hypothermia.
Make your pet visible
Winter always means lower visibility, whether it’s from the longer nights, fog and mist, or even snowstorms.
This lower visibility means you must take precautions to ensure your pet is visible both for you, motorists and other dog walkers/pedestrians.
There are multiple ways you can make your pet more visible:
- Buy a reflective coat
- Attach reflective items to their collar/harness/coat
- Attach lights to their collar/harness/coat
- Carry a torch
If you can, have all of the above, or a mixture.
Take great care of their paws
Your pet’s paws are one of the most vulnerable parts of their body. If they're not looked after properly, they can easily become cracked, injured or start bleeding which causes great discomfort and difficulty walking.
One way you can help your pet avoid hurting their paws is by using doggy boots. Your dog may not thank you at first, and they will likely walk funnily for a small while, but they will quickly get used to them.
If you’re not using boots, it is vital to keep the fur between pet’s paws clipped short to prevent a painful build-up of ice and snow.
You must also take care to clean their paws after each walk. This will remove any snow, mud or road salt that could cause irritation and infection if left and may even poison your pet if they ingest something they shouldn't whilst licking their paws clean.
Ensure their collar and tag are up to date
Sadly, more dogs are lost in winter months for many reasons. You may take all the precautions you possibly could, but accidents do happen.
Often, if a dog is lost on a walk, or escapes from the house, they can follow their nose home, but this is much harder in the winter as extreme weather washes away the smells they are used to.
This heightened risk means it is very important to ensure your pet's collar and tag are up to date. Double check the tag is working, and the phone number and/or address are still current, so if they do go missing, you can be contacted immediately when they're found.
Don’t leave your pet in the car
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is only something you should worry about in hot weather. You’d be forgiven, but sadly you’d be wrong.
Just like your car can act as an oven in the summer, it can act as a fridge in the winter, cooling down rapidly after the engine is switched off.
The most extreme risk is that your dog could freeze to death, however the most likely risk is they will suffer from hypothermia. (see the hypothermia section above)
If you absolutely cannot leave your dog at home, and you are only making a very short stop (1 to 2 minutes), there are a few precautions you can take including bringing blankets for your dog to burrow down in, or leaving hot water bottles wrapped in blankets, but this must be an absolute last resort.
Prevent poisoning by avoiding anti-freeze products
Antifreeze is incredibly dangerous for pets, so dangerous that it can even cause death, so you have got to be very cautious.
Be careful to clean up any spills when you make them to avoid your pet touching or licking it and if they do step in some, or any other toxic chemicals, make sure you quickly wash their paws and any other areas that made contact.
Worse than them stepping in it is if they lick it. They may lick it off a surface, or whilst cleaning their paws or fur which is extremely dangerous for them.
If you suspect they've licked anything like antifreeze or other chemicals, call your vet immediately for advice.
Keep an emergency kit with you
Always carry a first aid kit with you, so you can tackle any illness or injuries etc. immediately, so they don't have to wait until they see the vet for basic treatment.
Generally, a regular first aid kit will be enough for most scenarios and the infographic below shows essential items you should include in yours.
Even if you don't need to use it, which hopefully you won't, just having one with you will give you the peace of mind that you could help your pet if something does happen. As the saying goes, it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
You should also make sure you always carry the following:
- Water & Food
- Water and & Food bowls (foldable ones are easy to carry)
- Treats and whistle – for recall
- Rain jacket
- Umbrella or other form of shelter
- Doggie boots
Before you attempt any first aid, you should contact your vet for advice.