Vets are warning pet owners to take extra precautions to ensure dogs, cats and other small pets are kept safe from hidden and “potentially fatal hazards” as temperatures plummet.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is offering advice on how to keep pets safe and healthy in the winter seasons.
The BVA said: “As with humans, pets can fall ill upon exposure to extremely cold temperatures for extended periods. To avoid this, we advise that dogs are walked for shorter periods of time than usual, but more frequently if required, and to consider putting a coat on old dogs or those with thin fur to keep them warm.
“Keep older cats inside during an extremely cold spell and ensure that even healthy young cats have easy access to shelter and warmth.”
They added: “When walking your dog in ice and snow, 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, the BVA advises to call the emergency services for professional help “rather than going in after their pet.”
They also say it is important 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.
BVA president Daniella Dos Santos, said: “Plummeting temperatures and snowy 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, it’s advisable to walk them for shorter periods than usual.
“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.”
She added: “Domestic rabbits and guinea pigs are also vulnerable to hypothermia despite their warm coats, which is why owners need to be vigilant and take steps to ensure their hutches are protected from the snow, cold draughts and winter rain.
“If owners have any concerns about their pet in this cold weather, they should consult their local vet for advice.”