Pet safety in winter

Keep your pet protected in cold temperatures by learning about grooming for icy weather, the symptoms of hypothermia and keeping animals occupied indoors.

Key points

Although they may have a ready-made fur coat, winter weather and frosty temperatures will still affect your pet.

It's important to make sure that they're kept safe and warm so you don't have to make any unscheduled trips to the vet in the winter.

"Our pets can't tell us what's wrong, so it's vital to look out for any signs of distress, especially in the colder weather," said's Ben Wilson.

"Always take care to give them access to warm shelter, food and water and if you think that your pet may be suffering with the cold, bring them inside immediately.

"Make sure that you've got the right pet insurance policy too, providing suitable cover if you do have to take your animal to the vet in the winter."

Looking after dogs in winter


They may be the most excitable family member, but here are a few tips to keep your dog safe and sound when it's cold.

Walking in the winter

Try to keep up daily walks with your dog whatever the weather - if it's kept cooped up inside all day you'll have a very bored pooch on your hands.

For small, thin, elderly or short-haired dogs like whippets or Chihuahuas, consider buying a warm coat to keep the chill out when walking.

Surfaces that have been gritted can irritate a dog's feet, so wash off their paws after every walk.

Also, try to avoid frozen water which your dog may be tempted to run on. Keep your pet on a lead when you're passing a frozen lake or stream if your dog is prone to running off.

Dogs showing signs of discomfort such as crying or refusing to walk any further could be suffering from cold paws, so try to warm them up gently. Some dogs may be comfortable wearing dog booties to prevent this.

When it's very dark, you may want to consider reflective clothing for yourself and a collar or lead for your dog when out walking, so that you both can be seen easily by motorists.

Keeping them occupied

Symptoms of hypothermia

  • Mild hypothermia: Shaky, weak and a lack of alertness
  • Moderate hypothermia: Slow shallow breathing patterns and stiff muscles
  • Severe hypothermia: Fixed and dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, a slow heartbeat and in the worst cases, coma

Dogs that aren't getting as much outdoor exercise in the winter still need stimulation to keep them from getting bored.

Play tug-of-war or catch with your pooch indoors to keep them happy and upbeat until the warmer weather arrives.

Warming them up

Wet pets that have been out in chilly conditions should be warmed up with a soft, dry towel.

You could use a hairdryer, but only on a very low setting and by holding it at a safe distance from your dog.


Pets that aren't getting as much exercise in the colder months should have a food portion that reflects this to avoid them piling on the pounds.

Be particularly careful around the festive period when there are tempting treats like chocolate about - chocolate can be damaging to a dog's health.

Read more about how to keep your pet safe at Christmas.


Keeping the fur between your dog's paws neatly trimmed with appropriate grooming can help prevent the formation of ice-balls between the pads on their feet in snowy conditions, which can be extremely uncomfortable.

Looking after cats in winter


Winter can be a distressing time for cats if they're not allowed to prowl around their neighbourhood as often as they usually would.

These feline-friendly tips should help to keep them happy and well.

Somewhere to catnap

Cats enjoy somewhere warm to sleep and, in icy conditions, this could see them getting into places they shouldn't.

They may, for example, curl up next to a warm car engine. If this car is then started, it could seriously injure your cat.

If you're worried about your cat going missing in bad weather, you may want to keep them inside until the worst is over.

Litter tray

Cats that usually do their business outside may have to swap to using an indoor litter tray. Think about getting them used to it ahead of winter, so it's not so much of a shock.

Cat flap

It's important to check the cat flap regularly to see that it's working properly and hasn't frozen shut, which could leave your pet stuck outside in the cold without shelter.


Microchipping is a good idea for all pets, but especially if your cat is prone to wandering off in search of somewhere warm to lie down.

Looking after small mammals in winter


If you usually keep small pets like guinea-pigs and rabbits outside in hutches during the warmer weather, remember that their size makes them extremely susceptible to low temperatures.


Guinea-pigs should be moved into the house when it's cold - this could be into an unused garage or conservatory where they can keep warm, as long as it's bright and well ventilated.

For small mammals that can't be moved indoors, turn their hutch away from wind and rain and consider covering it with a blanket (without preventing air ventilation). Also provide them with plenty of bedding that they can use to curl up in and escape the cold.

If the hutch gets wet, take out any damp bedding and replace it with dry material as soon as possible.

Note that straw is a better insulator than hay, making it ideal for keeping your bunny or guinea pig warm in cool temperatures.


During the winter months, your pet may need extra calories to help keep them warm, so top up their food regularly to prevent them from losing weight.


The ball inside pet water bottles may freeze in extreme low temperatures. You could buy a bottle cover to keep the water from freezing, or simply check the ball regularly to see if your pet can drink freely.Life_critical_illness_Pig_teaser


It's important that your pet still has access to their run throughout the day so they can get their exercise.

Keeping them stuck in their hutch is a change from their normal routine and could distress them. Think about attaching tarpaulin over the top of the run to keep the wind and rain out.

If the temperature drops considerably and conditions are poor, bring your pet inside to keep them safe and warm.

Keep them safe

Just as your pet needs more nutrition in the winter, so will potential predators such as foxes looking for food, so make sure that their hutch is secure and out of harm's way.

Spotting hypothermia in pets

Hypothermia is when your pet has an abnormally low body temperature. Severe hypothermia is anything less than 28C in dogs and your pet should be taken to a vet immediately if you suspect they're suffering from this.

It can be difficult to spot hypothermia in pets and the symptoms will vary depending on the severity of the situation, but look out for:

  • Mild hypothermia: Shaky, weak and a lack of alertness
  • Moderate hypothermia: Slow shallow breathing patterns and stiff muscles
  • Severe hypothermia: Fixed and dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, a slow heartbeat and in the worst cases, coma

If your pet has any of these symptoms, take them out of the cold and put them somewhere warm... but not too hot as this can be just as harmful.

Make sure that they're completely dry by rubbing them gently with a towel.

It can also be a good idea to ring your vet as they may want to see your pet to make sure that they've fully recovered.

Note that it's dangerous to leave your pet in a cold car when the temperature is below freezing, even for a short period of time.

By Abbie Laughton-Coles