Winter has finally arrived; cold and snowy weather is here. While this normal for the time of year, it’s been so warm recently that we’ve forgotten what winter feels like. This sudden cold is also a shock to the system for our pets.
Animals are affected by the cold in different ways. We can take steps to keep them happy and comfortable so they can enjoy the snow as well.
Rabbits and guinea pigs who live outside are in danger of their water freezing. You can lower the chances of this happening by insulating the hutch (putting carpet over three sides and the roof is a cheap insulator, but make sure they can’t chew it) or by bringing them inside or into a shed or garage.
If your pets are in an outbuilding out of the cold, make sure that there’s still plenty of ventilation and avoid engine fumes. More information about care for rabbits can be found here.
Remember that it can get cold enough in sheds to freeze bottles or bowls of water. Check and change the water at least daily; twice a day when it’s very cold.
Many cats prefer to drink outside but put a bowl of water in the house for them if there’s a frost. Cats prefer to drink away from their food, so don’t use a divided bowl, give them a separate water bowl made of china or pottery – they don’t like the taste of metal or plastic bowls.
Antifreeze is a grave danger to cats in cold weather. It’s often a source of unfrozen liquid and, as it tastes sweet, they like to drink it. Antifreeze causes kidney failure, so make sure that cats can’t get access to it in garages and that any spills are cleaned up immediately. More information about antifreeze can be found here.
Cats used to going outside to the toilet should have a litter tray in the house. This means you won’t have accidents to clean up and your cat won’t be crossing its legs to delay going outside in the cold (this can cause cystitis and urinary obstructions).
Dogs often enjoy the snow and are keen to go walking in it. Continue to exercise them, but do consider a coat for old, stiff or very thin-coated dogs; younger dogs will happily keep themselves warm with exercise. Watch for snow balling up between their pads, or in hair, which can be painful.
Cold and wet weather can aggravate arthritis. It’s not just a condition in old cats and dogs; 80% of cats over 8 will have at least one arthritic joint. Animals with painful joints rarely cry out, instead they show the pain in different ways. They may be slow to rise or stiff when they first get up, moving more easily later. They may stop coming to greet you when you get home; or stop following you around the house. Some become grumpy or object to you touching certain areas of their body. However, with treatment it’s easy to make both dogs and cats more comfortable very quickly. Speak to your vet if you have any concerns; we can help.
Advice from the RSPCA about caring for wildlife during the winter can be found on this website.
This subject was also covered in an article for The Merthyr Tydfil Times.