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How to keep your pets safe in cold weather: Emergency vets issue top tips as temperatures plummet

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Pet owners have been urged to take extra care with their animals as a spell of cold weather hits Scotland.

Met Office warnings are in place across the country for snow, ice and wind over the weekend as temperatures plummet.

Vets Now’s emergency hospital in Glasgow and five emergency clinics across Scotland have seen a rise in cold weather-related cases in recent weeks.

Common issues emergency vets will treat include cats and dogs suffering from frostbite on paws and breathing difficulties from dogs who have short-noses.

There are also cases of pets injuring themselves due to icy and slippery surfaces, or hurting themselves on snow-covered hazards such as rocks.

Vets Now head of telehealth, Dave Leicester, said: “When the weather turns, pets and their owners need us more than ever. Our veterinary teams up and down the country are working hard, making extra preparations for the continued forecasted cold snap across large parts of the UK.

“Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures pose a serious threat to your pet. It’s essential you’re aware of what to do when faced with a pet emergency, especially when it’s out of hours and your vet is closed.”

Top tips

The service has produced some helpful advice to pet owners, to help keep your pet safe and warm as temperatures plummet further.

1. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet

Keep your pets inside, especially overnight, when temperatures plummet, otherwise they run the risk of getting frostbite or hypothermia.

If your pet is showing signs of either of these, contact your vet immediately. Remember, too, that temperatures indoors can also plummet.

If you’re out, try to make sure temperatures in your home can never fall below a reasonable level (around 20C).

2. Go on shorter, more frequent walks

It’s worth considering taking your dog on shorter, more frequent walks to protect them from weather-associated health risks.

3. Wash and dry your pet’s feet following walks

Salt and chemicals used to grit roads and pavements can be an irritant to your pet’s pads, especially if they have any small cracks or redness between the toes, so always wipe their paws with a cloth and warm water when you get home.

4. Don’t let your pet fall victim to antifreeze

Antifreeze poisoning is a major hazard during cold snaps, especially if it leaks from a car’s radiator or spills on the ground while being sprayed on frozen car windows.

Remove ice from vehicles using an old-fashioned scraper, keep containers of antifreeze locked away and clean up any spills quickly, as even small amounts can be deadly.

5. Keep a close eye on your car

Cats who are allowed outside during cold spells may try to cosy up on a warm vehicle engine.

Check underneath your car and bang on the bonnet before starting the engine to make sure you don’t have a feline hitchhiker.

6. Swot up on your pet’s breed

Just like humans, some pets, such as husky dogs and Persian cats, are more tolerant to cold weather than others.

Make sure you do your homework on your breed. For example, Dobermans, chihuahuas and great Danes require a little extra protection in the cold.

Short-nosed pets are also more at risk from extreme temperatures due to inherited breathing difficulties.

7. Consider a sweater or coat

It’s a myth that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold just because they have fur. Even long-haired pets are at risk in cold weather.

Consider putting a dry sweater on your pet before going outside and always take spares in case they get wet.

8. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar and is microchipped

Pets are more at risk of becoming lost and disoriented in snowy or blizzard conditions.

Ensure your dog or cat’s identification tag and microchip details are up-to-date and relevant.

9. Beware of heat stroke

Believe it or not, short-nosed dogs, in particular, are at risk of suffering heat stroke if they exercise vigorously in freezing temperatures and then settle in a warm house.

10. Avoid icy lakes and ponds

Steer clear of water that has frozen over. There is no guarantee it will support the weight of your pet. If your dog or cat falls through ice it may be deadly.

11. Feed your pets well

Pets who spend long periods outside may require more calories in the winter to generate enough energy to keep them warm – talk to your daytime vet about your pet’s nutritional needs. But don’t overfeed them.

12. Watch out for icy steps, roads and pavements

Older pets, particularly those with arthritis or mobility issues, are at risk of slipping and injuring themselves on slippery surfaces, especially steps or when jumping in or out of vehicles.

13. Make sure your pet has access to fresh water

It’s common sense but you should check your pet’s water bowl regularly and fill it up whenever it’s low. Few animals can survive for long without hydration, especially in extreme temperatures.

You should also be careful not to let your pet’s water bowl freeze over.

14. Beware of hazards covered in snow

Our emergency vets have treated pets who have injured themselves falling into potholes covered in snow or from hurtling into snow-laden rocks and steps.

15. Be prepared for cold weather

If the weather forecasters predict an extreme cold snap or snow and blizzards, make sure you have a pet emergency plan in place.

This includes stocking up on food and any prescription medication, knowing who to call in an emergency and how you might travel to the vet in an emergency.

For more hints and tips, and advice on what to do in a pet emergency during cold weather, visit