When you do venture out, there are a few extra things to be mindful of once the temperature drops, so we asked our Veterinary team to share their advice for keeping dogs and cats safe outside in winter.
Road traffic accidents are one of the most common causes of injury during the winter months. Try to schedule your walks during daylight hours if possible. If you do need to walk your dog in the dark, take a torch with you and use a reflective collar or coat to help your pet be seen by other road users. Make sure that your dog is wearing an identification disc on their collar and that their microchip is up to date.
Salt and grit used to de-ice roads and footpaths causes irritation to pets’ paws and can be extremely toxic when ingested. Be sure to wash and dry dirty paws when you and your dog get home or when your cat comes in from time outside. Applying a pet-safe paw balm daily can help prevent paw pads from drying out.
“Winter is a wonderful time to be enjoyed by you and your pet. Ensure your dog walks are just as fun and safe by keeping a close lookout for a few hazards that can accompany colder weather.”
Clumps of ice and snow can build up between your dog’s paw pads, particularly in breeds with fluffy paws. To minimise this, keep paw hair trimmed down. Doggy booties are available, but many dogs find wearing these stressful so they should only be used if your pet has particularly sensitive feet or is prone to paw pad injuries.
Antifreeze often contains a chemical called ethylene glycol which is extremely toxic to dogs and cats but is unfortunately also tempting because of its sweet taste. This chemical is also found in windscreen de-icer, brake fluid and ornamental snow globes, and ingesting as little as a teaspoon can be fatal.
Early symptoms of antifreeze poisoning include wobbliness, excessive thirst and vomiting. If you suspect that your pet has ingested antifreeze, you should contact your vet as soon as possible so an antidote can be given. Antifreeze products containing propylene glycol are more expensive but much safer for both pets and wildlife, so please consider using these instead.
Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature. Pets are most at risk of hypothermia if they are outside for too long or are suddenly exposed to low temperatures, for example by falling into icy water or even being left in a cold car. Older pets, very young pets and small animals are most vulnerable to hypothermia. Symptoms include shivering, pale gums, lethargy, confusion and poor coordination. If your pet displays any of these symptoms, bring them inside, warm them up gradually, dry them off with warm towels (if wet) and wrap them in a cosy blanket. Call your vet immediately for advice, as it is a good idea to have your pet checked over even if they seem to have returned to normal.
Some breeds of dog, such as greyhounds, have thin coats and will benefit from wearing a jacket on walks to help them stay warm. Breeds with a double coat, such as huskies, are naturally suited to cold weather so they shouldn’t need to wear a coat and may actually find it too hot! Make sure that your dog’s coat is a good fit, as a poorly fitted coat can rub as your dog walks, potentially causing painful sores.
Frostbite occurs most commonly on ears, paws and tails. The affected skin will initially turn pale or blue-tinged as blood flow to the area is restricted. Seek veterinary advice and treatment as soon as possible. Gradually warming the area will help to stop further damage – this can be done either by wrapping the area with a warm towel or submerging in tepid (but NOT hot) water. It’s important not to heat too quickly or to rub the area as this will cause further tissue damage. The skin is likely to become red and swollen as it warms up, so your pet may need some pain relief. In some extreme cases, surgical removal of the damaged tissue could be required.
Lucy, our Head Veterinary Nurse, told us: “Consider keeping your cats in overnight and letting them outside for shorter periods of time, but only if this is something they will be happy with. After each adventure outside, always give your pet a through look-over to make sure they’re not covered in any unwanted elements of the outside.”
Remember to look after yourself this winter too! Wearing suitable shoes, warm clothing and a high-visibility jacket or armbands when heading out will help you avoid accidents and make sure your dog walks are as enjoyable as possible.
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