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RSPCA issues advice on keeping pets safe in cold weather

19 Jan 2024 4 minute read
Image: David Allan Barker

With temperatures hitting zero and below, the RSPCA has issued advice to help keep pets safe and warm, reminding owners to ensure outdoor animals have access to food, bedding and ice-free water.

Walking dogs

If you have an elderly or sickly dog, buy a special coat or jumper to keep them warm. Stay safe when walking your dog in the dark. Wear reflective clothing and think about a reflective collar or light for your dog’s collar.

Keep your dogs away from ponds and lakes that are iced over – thin ice may break under a dog’s weight. If it’s snowing outside, watch out for your dogs’ paws becoming compacted with snow, which is uncomfortable for them.


Be aware that antifreeze and rock salt can be poisonous to pets. Wash their paws thoroughly after walking your dog in areas that may have been gritted with rock salt.

Keeping cats warm

Check your feline friend’s bedding is away from cold draughts and stays warm and dry. In the coldest months, it’s important that your cat has access to a warm environment, such as your home or another heated indoor area.

Be aware that antifreeze and rock salt can be poisonous to pets.

Learn more about antifreeze poisoning in cats.

Check under your car for sleeping cats

In cold weather, cats may decide to take shelter under your car, including crawling under the bonnet and wheel arches to soak up the warmth from the car engine and tyres.

Before setting off in your car, make sure you tap the bonnet of your car and check around the wheels and on top of the tyres before you start the engine and drive.

Rabbits and guinea pigs

Outdoor pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, need extra bedding such as dust-free hay in the winter months. Keep their home protected from bad weather by using blankets or covers, to help insulate hutches in the winter months. Remember to make sure they’re still well-ventilated.

Keep your pets dry in rainy weather by making sure the indoor area of their enclosure has a sloped roof to allow water to drain away. Raise it off the ground by at least four inches and place it in a sheltered position, facing away from wind and rain.

As the temperature drops, you could move their enclosure into an outhouse shed or unused garage. If you decide to bring your rabbits or guinea pigs indoors, they’ll need plenty of time and room to exercise in a safe and secure environment.

Read more information in our rabbit winter care advice.

Birds in aviaries, coops or runs

Protect pet birds kept outside from cold weather by giving them plenty of extra dry, warm bedding, such as straw, and cover their enclosures to keep the wind and rain out.

Birds will eat more to keep warm in cold conditions, so ensure they always have access to plenty of food and fresh water and make sure their water doesn’t freeze over.

Fishpond in your garden

If you have a fishpond, check it each day to make sure the surface isn’t entirely frozen over, as poisonous gases can build up under the ice.

Don’t break the ice, as this can harm the fish, but carefully place a saucepan of hot water on the surface to gently melt a hole in the ice. Never tip boiling water straight onto the pond either, as this can also harm or kill any fish living there.

Horses and ponies

If it’s wet and muddy, regularly check hooves, for problems such as abscesses and loose shoes, and legs, for any signs of mud fever. Owners should ensure horses have access to a dry resting area, out of the mud.

Horses and ponies kept outside need access to shelter, and constant fresh water and some may need a waterproof rug to protect them from cold and wet weather. Provide extra feed and good quality long fibre, as the grass is often sparse. Check water troughs and buckets are clear of ice.

When riding in the winter, beware of getting your horse sweated up as they can easily catch a chill. Always wear reflective clothing when riding on the roads.

Read more winter care advice for horses here.

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