Keeping your pet safe in winter

5 minute read

With the festivities of winter comes plenty of opportunities to celebrate, but winter pet safety can be a concern for families.

  • Pets need a familiar, comfortable space to help them feel calm
  • Loud celebrations such as fireworks can cause some pets distress 
  • Managing anxiety among pets can vary depending on how your animal displays stress

From bright flashes and screeching fireworks on Bonfire Night to the excitement of Christmas Day, the winter holidays can be a worrying time for pet lovers. No matter how excited we are about the festivities ahead, being worried about your dog or cat can put a dampener on any plans. 

What are the risks of winter for pets?

No matter the time of year, pet owners are always thinking about how to keep their pets safe. Whether it’s checking the temperature of pavements in a heatwave or watching everything they pick up, looking after your pet can seem like a full-time, year-round job. 

The specific risks of winter can often be overlooked . Here are some of the most common hazards you may be unaware of:

Ice, snow and grit 

Keep a close eye on your pets’ paws as they can get irritated or suffer minor abrasions because of grit and other chemicals used to grit roads. Check their pads on a regular basis and use a warm, damp cloth to clean them if you’re concerned.

Bitter temperatures

Dogs and cats with short coats can get cold quickly and even get frostbite or hypothermia. Speak to your vet about your pet’s breed and whether you need to be concerned.

Limited exercise

Some pets – both cats and dogs – don’t like snow and may be reluctant to head out for their usual exercise. If the cold snap holds on, you may find your pet starts putting on weight. If so, adjust their food portions or speak to your vet.

Antifreeze poisoning

Antifreeze can leak from a car radiator and is extremely dangerous – be extra vigilant of your pet going anywhere near driveways or parked cars. If you think they’ve come into contact with any chemical, go straight to your vet.

Toxic foods

Winter often means there’s plenty of sweet and fatty foods around. Although these are comforting for humans, you need to be careful with your pets as some can be toxic and they shouldn’t eat them.

Anxiety in pets 

Humans aren’t the only ones who suffer with anxiety. Your pets can also get stressed and anxious throughout the year but the darker days and likelihood of loud celebrations can make it worse during the winter. 

 

Anxiety in cats

Pets often show you when they’re feeling worried. If your cat starts peeing around the house when they would usually use a litter tray or go outside, this could be the first sign that they’re suffering with anxiety. 

In other cases, cats may be more aggressive towards their owner and other pets they live with because they’re not feeling safe. Other signs include hiding in quiet areas, excessive meowing and overzealous grooming. 

 

Anxiety in dogs

In dogs, anxiety is often shown through trembling, tucking their tail between their legs, diarrhoea and excessive anxious behaviour such as licking or biting themselves. They are more prone to separation anxiety than cats who tend to be more naturally independent. This can mean they howl, cry or bark constantly when you leave them alone. Not only is this annoying for your neighbours, but it can also be stressful for your dog. 

To address this anxiety, you need to establish the cause of their stress. It may be that you’re leaving them alone for too long, they’re not getting enough stimulation while you’re away or certain noises are upsetting them without you there to comfort them. Once you know the cause, you can work to create a calmer environment for them. This will often have to be done slowly so you’re never pushing your dog too far out of its comfort zone. 

It’s always best to speak directly to your vet to establish what’s triggering separation anxiety, but these are some top tips for the short term:

  • Vary up your routine for leaving the house – having the same pattern that signals you’re leaving your dog can increase the amount of time that they’re getting stressed
  • Slowly increase the amount of time you leave your dog alone for, and try to return before they show signs of anxiety
  • Give them a special treat when you do leave
  • Ignore them when you come home – you returning should be boring, not exciting
  • Try not to fuss them too much when you leave as it can be another signal that you’re going

Treating anxiety in pets 

Don’t worry too much if your pet is showing signs of anxiety. With a little patience and guidance, you should be able to help soothe them fairly quickly once you’ve established the root cause. This should help them become a more well-rounded, confident animal in all situations.

For most pets, including cats and dogs, sudden changes are the main cause of anxiety, so keeping consistent – such as when they’re walked and fed and where their bed is – will generally keep them calm.

Try not to change your furniture or living space set up too often, as animals take comfort in familiar things. A great way to keep them happy is by having a safe, comfortable space that is their own so if they’re feeling slightly worried, they have somewhere to go where they can feel comforted without needing you there.

Keeping your pet safe with fireworks

Whether it’s Bonfire Night, Christmas or New Year’s Eve, there’s sure to be fireworks going off throughout the winter months. Fireworks are a common cause of stress for pets but understanding how you can comfort them can make a massive difference. 

Fireworks are noisy and startling, particularly to cats and dogs who have acute hearing. Here’s how you can take care of your pet’s wellbeing, though seek advice from your vet if you are worried:

  • Keeping your pets safe in winter often means keeping them indoors when there’s fireworks or loud noises. Cats may panic and run outside, so make sure all doors and any cat flaps are firmly shut on nights you expect there to be startling noises
  • Constantly having some sort of familiar background noise, like a TV or radio, can help keep your pet settled especially when you need to leave them alone. There’s even specially designed music to encourage pets to stay calm
  • Be patient with your pet if they're in distress. Let them whine, pace around and find a safe spot they feel comfortable in 
  • Close all relevant doors, windows, blinds and curtains so external sights and sounds are reduced 
  • Don't cuddle or comfort your pet above what you normally would. This will exacerbate the problem 
 
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