Vets offer advice on winter walkies and other cold weather hazards

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As temperatures start to drop, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) are warning pet owners to make sure their dogs and cats are kept free from hidden and potentially fatal hazards this winter.

During the winter your pets can be affected by the cold and get ill. To avoid this walk dogs for less time but more often when temperatures drop, and consider putting a dog coat on old dogs or those with thin fur to keep them warm. Keep older cats inside when the weather gets very bad and make sure that even healthy cats are able to access shelter and warmth.

“Each season brings its own set of hazards and winter is no different, so we ask owners to make sure their animals are kept safe and warm over the winter months. Simple things like leaving your dog sat on the cold ground outside a shop whilst you pop in or putting your cat out all night can cause it to get chilled and suffer from a range of illnesses. If you notice your animal shivering due to the weather then it’s time to get them warm again.”

Sean Wensley BVA president

Do not to bathe your dog or cat too often over the winter months - unless they’ve rolled in something unbearable! If you do, make sure it’s with warm water and that they are dried thoroughly to prevent them getting cold and becoming ill.

When walking your dog in ice and snowy conditions, do not let it off the lead and avoid walking in areas where ponds or lakes may have frozen over - animals often don’t understand the difference between solid ground and ice and can fall through. In this situation vets urge owners not to go in after their pet as although distressing, it is never worth risking your own life as well as your dog’s.

Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association said: “Each season brings its own set of hazards and winter is no different, so we ask owners to make sure their animals are kept safe and warm over the winter months. Simple things like leaving your dog sat on the cold ground outside a shop whilst you pop in or putting your cat out all night can cause it to get chilled and suffer from a range of illnesses. If you notice your animal shivering due to the weather then it’s time to get them warm again.”

Ross Allen, spokesperson for the British Small Animal Veterinary Association said: “Give paws a thought – when it gets cold many of us use de-icer, which often leaks onto the ground– this can prove deadly to pets, so it is worth wiping down their legs and paws after being outside. Extreme cold, as well as salt and grit used on the road, can irritate your pet too so when you wipe paws also check for cracks and bleeding. The cold can also worsen some established conditions, such as arthritis. If you’ve not had your annual check-up with your vet, this is a good time of year to schedule a visit.”

Other top tips to keep your dogs and cats safe this winter:

* Make sure your pet’s bed is in a draft free, warm spot off the floor in the house.

* Dogs need to be exercised, however during the darker winter months try to walk your dog before night falls. If that isn’t possible, make sure you use a reflective lead, collar or dog coat for your dog and always carry a torch so that other road users can see to avoid you.

* Make sure to wipe your dog’s paws and belly on returning home from a snowy walk to remove any ice or salt, and to regularly check for cracks in paw-pads or for redness between the toes.

* Wiping your pets’ paws can also prevent them from ingesting toxins that they may have stood in whilst outside. Antifreeze in particular is highly toxic, with one in four vets reporting having to treat cats for antifreeze poisoning in the last year and a further 2% also treating dogs.