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How to protect your dogs and cats in cold weather

Beautiful vizsla dog wearing blue winter coat enjoying snowy day outdoors. Front view of a cute dog in a winter jacket.
Our furry friends may need some help to deal with the cold winter days. (Getty Images)

Britain is deep in the trenches of winter and temperatures have dropped dramatically. People are wrapped up from head to toe to ward off the chill, but what about our beloved pets?

We are undoubtedly a nation of pet lovers, with an estimated 12 million dogs and 11 million cats living in UK homes - not to mention the 1.3 million indoor birds and 1.5 million rabbits!

And just like us, our pets get cold in wintry weather, particularly if they need to be walked or let outside. So how do we ensure they stay warm and happy?

Dogs and cats are the main pets that go outside regularly in the UK. The advice for each animal differs, so we turned to the experts.

Dogs

Some dogs weather the cold better than others, but it’s always important to ensure they are comfortable.

Warm coats

According to Dogs Trust, if your dog is of a breed that grows thick, furry coats all year round, consider letting them grow their coats out to give them added protection when the temperature drops.

However, shorter-haired dogs and young puppies might need some extra help to stay warm. In these cases, you can consider buying them a sensible winter coat, which will need to be introduced to the pooch in a gradual and positive way.

Living With Disabled Pets. Mid Adult Woman Walking With Her Cute Senior Dachshund Dog In Pet Carrier At The City Street Next Home On Cold Winter Day. Real LGBTQIA+ People, Front View, Ambient Light, Copy Space
Some pooches, such as elderly ones, might need to wrap up warm in the cold. (Getty Images)

Post-walk wipes

Grit from roads and dampness from rain and snow can irritate dogs’ skin, so make sure you wipe their legs, feet and stomach after a walk.

In some extreme weather conditions, it could be a good idea to get your four-legged friend some dog boots. These are coverings that go over their paws to protect them on dangerous surfaces, like snowy pavements.

However, it’s not as simple as simply strapping your dog into their boots and heading out. You will have to train your dog to wear them, so just like a winter coat, they have to be introduced slowly with plenty of positive reinforcement.

Avoid ice

Woman walking pug dog in snowy winter park by frozen lake holding leash. Puppy wearing harness. Accessories for animals
When walking your dog near frozen water, be careful not to let them run over the ice. (Getty Images)

Experts at Dogs Trust warn dog owners to keep their pooches away from ice. Many dogs enjoy swimming, but their favourite spots for a dip may have frozen over during as temperatures drop below 0C.

The charity urges owners not to let their dogs run on the ice, as it may not be thick enough to take the dog’s weight and they could fall through into the freezing water underneath.

In the awful event that your dog does fall through the ice, the charity strongly advises that you do not go in after them as cold water shock can be fatal for people. Instead, encourage your dog to swim back to you, and if you need help in an emergency, call 999.

Keep them on the lead

To ensure your dog doesn’t get lost in the snow, keep them on the lead when you go out for walks. You should also ensure they are wearing a collar and ID tag, and that their microchip details are up to date.

Check their leads, collars and harnesses regularly to make sure they are functioning well and won’t be prone to damage in wet or wintry weather.

Jack Russell Terrier fetches his toy while walking on leash
Keeping your dog on their lead when out for a snowy walk will ensure they stay close to you. (Getty Images)

Avoid antifreeze

Dogs may find antifreeze tasty, but it is highly poisonous for them. Dog’s Trust recommends keeping antifreeze and other chemicals well out of reach and to mop up any spills quickly. Contact your vet immediately if you think your dog has ingested any.

Cats

Cats are prolific heat-seekers and are generally food at finding warm, cosy places even when it’s cold out. However, Cats Protection says they might need a helping hand if they are very young, old or struggling with health conditions.

First snow

Playful, European, domestic cat on a snow cover.
Make sure you accompany your cat if they are seeing snow for the first time. (Getty Images)

If your cat is seeing snow for the first time, the charity recommends letting them explore in a safe, enclosed area before letting them venture further. Accompany them in case they get into any difficulty.

Check their paws

When your cat comes back indoors after spending time in the freezing outdoors, check their paws and gently wipe off any road grit, salt or compacted snow.

Like humans, cats can get frostbite so stay vigilant and check for any signs of discolouration, pain, swelling or blisters on their toes and ears.

The cold can also severely affect the joints of cats with arthritis, so ensure they have lots of warm places to sleep that can be accessed easily.

Keep them indoors at night

When temperatures are lower at the end of the day, consider keeping your moggy indoors for the night.

If they must be outside, you should provide shelter for them. Keep the doors of sheds and outbuildings wedged slightly open, or install a cat flap so they don’t become trapped inside.

Beautiful Street Cat hiding at winter
Cats usually seek shelter from the cold, so making sure they have a place to go is important. (Getty Images)

You should also check your cat flap regularly to ensure it hasn’t frozen over or become blocked by snow.

Check your vehicle

Cats have been known to climb into vehicle engines for warmth while out roaming. Check under your bonnet before starting your vehicle to make sure there isn’t a cat curled up in there.

Five top-rated products for keeping your pets warm and cosy

Waterproof Winter Coat | £23.99 from Amazon

Greyhound Winter Coat
(GZGZADMC / Amazon)

Dog & Field Dual Layer Towelling Dog Coat | £24.99 from Amazon

Dog & Field™ Duel Layer Towelling Dog Coat
(Dog & Field / Amazon)

3 Peaks All Terrain Dog Boots | £20-£22 from Pets At Home

(Pets at Home)
(Pets at Home)

Petace Self Heating Cat Bed | £14.99 (Was £19.99) from Amazon

Amazon pet bed
(Petace / Amazon)

PetSafe Staywell 4 Way Locking Classic Cat Flap | £14.40 (Was £15.26) from Amazon

Amazon cat flap
(PetSafe / Amazon)

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