Expert Tips: Protecting Pets in Icy Weather – Vet’s Warning to Pet Owners

“I’m a vet and this is my warning to pet owners in icy weather”

  • Protecting paws and avoiding regular bathing are among expert’s top tips

With the weather turning icy for much of the UK as temperatures plummet, TrustedHousesitters  and Veterinary Surgeon Rebecca MacMillan, BVetMed, BSAVA, PGCertSAM, MRCVS, share expert advice for pet owners to keep their pets safe in freezing temperatures.

“Most of us take sensible actions over the winter to look after ourselves, but we also need to think about how to keep our pets safe,” said Rebecca. “The chilly weather can be enjoyed safely with our furry companions as long as you take a few simple precautions.”

Here are vet Rebecca’s 10 top tips for looking after your pet in extreme cold:

  1. Protect the paws – Salt and ice-melting chemicals can be harmful to your pet’s paws: “Grit and rock salt can be irritating to sensitive paws, and your pet may also ingest it as he grooms himself. Antifreeze is also a danger at this time of year, so if you think it has accidentally stepped in a spillage outside, then washing your pet’s paws will help.” Make sure to clean your dog’s paws after walks and use a soothing balm to rehydrate them.
  2. Monitor food intake – Some pets may require additional calories during the cold weather to generate energy and stay warm, while some need a decrease in calories. MacMillan encourages pet owners to talk to their veterinarians about food intake during winter: “Many of us spend more time indoors in the winter months, which means our pets do too. Being less active means pets’ energy requirements may reduce over the winter months. Monitor your pet’s weight carefully and go easy on treats and titbits to avoid an expanding waistline. Conversely, animals that live or work outdoors may actually need more calories in the winter, so monitor their body condition closely.”
  3. Keep a full water bowl – It’s a common misconception that pets are only at risk for dehydration in warm temperatures. However, cold weather can contribute to dehydration in pets, so make sure they always have access to fresh water.
  4. Be cautious with space heaters – Keep pets away from space heaters and other heat sources, as they can cause burns or start fires if knocked over. Vet Rebecca says, “pick one with an anti-tip feature to prevent it from being knocked over and a cool-touch exterior to prevent burning Put it in a low-traffic area to further limit the risks of injury.”
  5. Don’t leave pets in the car – While many pet owners understand the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars, cold cars can be just as dangerous for pets. The interior of a car holds in cold like a refrigerator, which can cause animals to freeze.
  6. Keep baths to a minimum – Like humans, it’s common for pets to get dry, itchy and flaky skin in cold weather. Experts recommend that pet owners keep bathing to a minimum and keep their homes humidified to avoid dry skin on pets during the winter.
  7. Check your engine – Sometimes cats use warm engines as a heat source in cold temperatures. Before using your vehicle, ensure outdoor animals’ safety by checking underneath your car for any furry visitors.
  8. Stay up to date on vaccines – Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are current, as cold weather can increase their risk of contracting certain illnesses.
  9. Watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite – If your pet exhibits symptoms such as shivering, lethargy, ice on their body, or discolored skin, contact your local vet immediately. Check your pet’s ears, tail, and paws regularly for signs of frostbite, which can appear as pale or gray skin that’s cold to the touch.
  1. Prepare for power outages – In case of power outages or the event of being snowed in, make sure you have enough supplies to keep you going for a few days, this includes any regular medication that your pet is on, as well as pet food.

Angela Laws, TrustedHousesitters Head of Community, commented:

“In light of the expected colder and rainier winter season, it is crucial for pet owners and pet sitters alike to be well-equipped with the knowledge and skills to provide proper care for our beloved pets. Ensuring their safety, comfort, and well-being during these harsh weather conditions is not only a responsibility but a testament to our love for these cherished family members.”

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