Cats Needing Homes UK and Ireland

Cold Weather Advice - Pets & Wildlife

Winter can be a beautiful time of the year - however, cold and icy weather can present dangers for pets and wildlife. Here are some tips and advice to help animals in winter.

CatsDogsGuinea Pigs & RabbitsHorsesWild BirdsPondlifeHedgehogs

Keeping Cats Safe:

cold weather care for your catStaying Warm:
Cats left outdoors for long periods in very cold temperatures are at risk of developing hypothermia or even frostbite, and for older cats subzero temperatures can even be fatal. Cats should not be shut out of the house for long periods of time and should always have access to warmth and shelter.

Cat Flaps:
If your cat usually toilets outside, please ensure they can get can get back in again! Check your cat flap regularly to make sure it doesn’t get frozen shut by ice or snow.

Outdoor Cats:
For cats who remain outside in cold weather, such as feral cats, please make sure there is some outside shelter, which is dry and waterproof. This could be a shed, garage or similar, with some warm and dry bedding to snuggle down in. At the very minimum, a dry, waterproof cardboard box, covered with a bin liner or some cling film can make all the difference. It will need to be weighted down or tucked under a bush for stability, and contain a thick layer of straw (or thick wollen jumpers / blanket etc. which will need changing regularly).

Road Gritting - Rock Salt Danger:
The rock salt used to grit roads and pavements is dangerous to cats (and dogs) if ingested. They can easily walk through the substances left by gritters or salt on paths and lick it off their paws. Consuming rock salt can cause dehydration, liver failure and pancreatitis. In snowy and icy weather, keep your cats away from roads or paths where salt has been used, or wash their paws when they come in. Symptoms of consuming rock salt (which contains the same ingredient as table salt - sodium chloride, but also has harmful chemicals such as magnesium) include burns to the mouth and throat and excessive salivating and drinking. If you’re worried, contact your vet immediately.

Sheds and garages need to be checked for hazards where pets are likely to be seeking shelter: Antifreeze is highly toxic if ingested, so never leave antifreeze containers unattended in places where an animal could get to it, and take care to mop up any spillages. Less than a teaspoonful of Antifreeze can be fatal if ingested by cats or other animals, and usually causes death by kidney failure. So please take care when attending to your car.

Cats & Cars:
The warmth of a cooling car engine is a very tempting refuge for cats. Before starting your engine on a cold morning, bang loudly on the bonnet to give cats a chance to get away if they are sheltering there.


Protecting Other Pets: 

cold weather frozen pond dangerDogs:
Your dog will still need routine and exercise, even in the winter months. It’s important to thoroughly wipe off your dog’s paws, legs and stomach when returning from a walk in snowy or icy weather, to prevent paws becoming impacted with snow, which can cause them discomfort.This will also avoid your dog ingesting rock salt used on icy paths and roads, and other potentially harmful ice melting chemicals when self grooming. Clipping the fur on your dogs feet to keep it shorter, will make them less likely to pick up the salted grit.

Guinea Pigs & Rabbits:
Guinea pigs and rabbits need extra consideration at this time of year. Before winter sets in, check hutches and housing to ensure they are waterproof, making any necessary repairs, and patching any leaks. Hutches should be raised clear of the ground to prevent damp; bricks are ideal for this. They need extra bedding in their housings, and regular checks to ensure their water feeders aren't frozen. Be prepared to move them into a shed, unused garage, or even indoors when the weather is particularly cold. Don’t forget too, that small furries need exercise and companionship all year round! More here:

If horses and ponies are kept outside during the winter, they must have access to shelter at all times. Check that their source of fresh water hasn't iced over. If you live in an area that regularly experiences sub-zero temperatures, there are heating devices available specifically designed for horse troughs. They will also need to be supplied with extra hay, as winter grazing provides very little nutrition. Horses burn more calories in winter to keep warm, so providing extra hay will help maintain heat and health. A rug may be needed, particularly if they are clipped, but be careful not to over-blanket (if unsure, consult your vet). Daily exercise, and regular hoof care is also important during the winter months.

Cold weather can cause discomfort for pets who suffer from Arthritis. If you suspect this may be the case, take your pet for a winter check-up from your vet. There is plenty of advice, and help available.

Help for Wildlife

cold weather help for wildlifeWild Birds:
Please remember the wildlife in your garden... In winter, birds have difficulty finding their usual food supplies such as berries, insects, seeds, worms and fruit. Put out food regularly, specially in severe weather - twice daily if possible (in the morning and in the afternoon before it gets dark). Where cats are around, avoid putting food on the ground; use a bird table, or hanging feeders where cats cannot reach. Check bird baths and water feeders regularly. Providing birds with fresh, unfrozen water this time of the year will really help.

If you have a pond that has frozen over, melt a hole in the ice to allow the wildlife to drink. This also prevents toxic gases from building up in the water, which may harm fish or frogs that are hibernating at the bottom. To do this, carefully place a saucepan of hot water on the surface ice to gently melt a hole in it. Never tip boiling water straight onto the pond or break the ice with force, as this can be dangerous for any residing wildlife.

Hedgehog numbers have declined drastically over the last decade, mostly due to habitat loss. If you are lucky enough to have hedgehogs in your area, you can help them greatly by leaving part(s) of your garden wild. Piles of leaves, logs etc provide nest material, as well as attracting insects that hedgehogs eat! Fresh water, and suitable food put out regularly will help them prepare for their winter hibernation. Good foods for hedgehogs are: meat flavoured wet cat or dog food, cat biscuits, cooked meat leftovers such as mince or chicken, chopped up boiled eggs, or specialist hedgehog food such as Spikes, from petfood supply shops or online. Please don't put out bread or milk, as these can cause upset tummies! Find out more here: RSPCA wild hedgehog advice

Thanks to Cat Chat Volunteer - Simon Crutchley, for the photos on this page.

Cats Needing Homes UK and Ireland