The days are growing shorter and colder in the northern hemisphere as we head towards Christmas. We may be hoping for – and singing about – a white Christmas, but the cold weather may not be so welcome for some of our pets, including dogs.
The RSPCA is urging people to get ready for cold weather, and make sure their animals will stay safe when the temperature drops.
Here’s some action you can take to make a difference for your pets, and for wilflife too:
● It may not be all that inviting for you in the winter, but it’s important to continue exercising your pooch to keep him happy and healthy.
● You and your dog should wear reflective clothing or use lights to ensure you’re visible to traffic. Pick up a dog collar safety light for just £6.99 from the RSPCA online shop.
● Keep your dog away from frozen ponds and lakes as they could be dangerous, and keep an eye on their paws for impacted snow which can cause discomfort.
Horses and livestock
● If kept outside, they’ll need access to shelter, fresh water and food.
● If particularly cold or wet, some horses, ponies and donkeys may need a waterproof rug.
● Check hooves regularly for problems such as abscesses and loose shoes, and legs, for any signs of mud fever. Owners should ensure horses have access to a dry resting area.
● Arrange a regular routine for visiting and caring for your equine and make arrangements with an experience person to take care of your horse if you’re unable to attend or in the event of an emergency.
● Farmers and smallholders should give extra consideration to young animals and whether they need extra protection from the cold weather. For more information, visit our website.
● Ensure your cat has constant access to the house or to a warm, inside area like an outbuilding or barn with appropriate heating.
● Make sure the cats bedding or sleeping area is warm, dry and away from any draughts. Buy your puss a soft, cosy adaptable three-in-one bed for £23.99 from the RSPCA’s shop.
Small pets and birds
● Keep a close eye on any outdoor pets - such as rabbits, guinea pigs and aviary birds - and provide them with extra bedding to snuggle into. Buy multi-buy hay online for £14.95 in the RSPCA shop.
● Move them into a shed or unused garage for extra shelter if possible but never house them in greenhouses due to the temperature changes.
● If your rabbit or guinea pig gets wet, rub them dry with a towel and make sure they have plenty of warm bedding.
● Check the pond every day for ice as toxic gases can build up in frozen water and may kill fish or frogs. If it freezes over, carefully place a saucepan filled with hot water on the surface to melt a hole - but never tip boiling water directly onto the ice or break it with force as this could harm the fish. And never try to use antifreeze or salt to thaw frozen ponds or birdbaths.
● Birds may find it difficult to find food, so you can leave out extra food for them to help them stay strong. For more information about what to feed them, visit the RSPCA website.
● Keep bird baths free of ice, leave out bowls of clean water, and keep any feeders and water bowls clean.
● Make sure you carefully check any wood, leaf or compost piles for wild animals such as hedgehogs, frogs and mice, before lighting any fires or bonfires. If you find wild animals in hibernation, be sure to leave them be.
It’s not just the weather than can pose a danger to your pets though. Many plants that are part of our festivities can be poisonous to dogs, cats and other pets. Some of the foods that are traditional for us to enjoy at Christmas can be extremely hazardous for our companion animals with chocolate, grapes, sultanas and raisins posing severe risks.
The RSPCA has launched the ‘Love Animals, Hate Cruelty’ campaign, aiming to increase awareness of the number of calls the charity gets over the winter months as a result of the neglect of animals. This can vary from animals being left outside without adequate shelter, food and water, to those left with painful injuries or illnesses untreated. The RSPCA received on average one call every four minutes about animals suffering neglect between October 2015 and January 2016.
The campaign also aims to highlight the love the vast majority of owners have for their pets, and to show how those who ‘love animals’ can show it. If you’d like to support the RSPCA to continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals who desperately need care, visit https://www.rspca.org.uk/wintercampaign. You can also visit the RSPCA shop to buy products to help you keep your pet safe this winter, and those purchases will help support the charity’s work.
If you think an animal is suffering in the cold, make a note of its location, the time and date and call the RSPCA on their emergency number - 0300 1234 999.