With freezing temperatures and icy conditions forecast in many parts of the country, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is advising pet owners to take extra precautions to ensure dogs, cats and other small pets are kept safe from hidden and potentially fatal winter hazards.

As with humans, pets can fall ill upon exposure to extremely cold temperatures for extended periods. To avoid this, BVA is asking owners to consider putting a coat on old dogs or those with thin fur to keep them warm.

It is also important to wipe your dog’s paws and belly on returning home from a snowy walk to remove any traces of ice or grit, and to regularly check for cracks in paw-pads or for redness between the toes.

Keep older cats inside during an extremely cold spell and ensure that even healthy young cats have easy access to shelter and warmth.

Cats are especially at risk of poisoning from antifreeze at this time of the year, which can be fatal for them even in small amounts.

Over half (51%) of vets who treated toxic ingestion in cats over the 2019 festive period saw cases caused by antifreeze.

Store and use antifreeze products carefully, clean any spillages thoroughly, and contact your vet immediately if your cat develops symptoms of antifreeze poisoning.

Caring for small animals

Small pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs that usually live outdoors are vulnerable to the cold and damp despite their furry coats.

Owners with outdoor hutches and runs should make sure that their pets’ living space is well-protected from snow, frost and winter rain.

Give rabbits and guinea pigs extra bedding for warmth and check their water bottle or bowl regularly, as these can freeze when the temperature drops.

Similarly, keepers of backyard flocks of poultry or herds of pigs, goats or other livestock should check drinking water sources frequently to ensure they aren’t frozen.

BVA senior vice president Daniella Dos Santos said:

"Freezing temperatures and icy conditions call for extra precautions to keep our pets safe and warm.

Dogs and cats should have easy access to shelter and warmth out of the cold, and while dogs will still need exercise, owners should take precautions to protect them from the cold.

"Antifreeze is a huge hazard for cats, so contact your vet immediately if you see signs of poisoning such as vomiting, depression, lack of coordination, seizures and difficulty breathing.

"Snow flurries are no fun for small furries either, with domestic rabbits and guinea pigs vulnerable to hypothermia despite their warm coats.

Owners should take steps to ensure any outdoor hutches are well-protected from the snow, cold draughts and winter rain.

"If you have any concerns about your pet in this cold weather, consult your local vet for advice," she concluded.