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Helpful Advice for Keeping Your Pets Safe at Christmas

24 December 2015

UK - Keeping pets active and happy in winter is good for their health but it is important you also know how to keep them and yourself safe in the winter weather.

Dog winter care

Be seen and not hurt

Dogs need regular outdoor exercise. Choose daylight hours in winter whenever possible. At PDSA, we recommend you follow these rules if you have to walk your dog in the dark:

  • Keep your dog on a lead unless in a totally traffic-free area.
  • Wear reflective clothing and carry a torch.
  • Get your dog a glowing/ flashing collar and lead and other safety devices to aid visibility, particularly if your dog is dark haired.

Gearing up for winter

If you walk your dog in the snow, or when the temperature is below freezing, make sure you...

  • Towel dry your dog as soon as you get home or use a hairdryer on a low setting held some distance away. Keep the hairdryer moving as you would for yourself.
  • Consider getting a winter coat for dogs with thin, fine hair, or those that are getting older, or those suffering with joint problems.
  • Prevent snowballs from forming by trimming the hair between your dog’s toes or training it to wear doggy boots.

Don’t let any your dog stay outside in freezing temperatures for a lengthy period without access to shelter and warmth.

Never leave a pet in a car. Even a few minutes in a cold car can cause hypothermia.

Cat winter care

Keep your cat in, but keep it active

Ideally, keep your cat in at night to reduce the risk of road traffic accidents. Stop it becoming a bored couch potato by keeping it active with games you can get involved in...

  • Introduce new games and toys to exercise your cat’s body and mind.
  • Give them activity centres, safe cat mobiles and scratching posts as winter diversions.
  • Hide a favourite toy and encourage your cat to seek it out.

Small furries winter care

Wrap up small pets

Small furries really feel the cold, so here’s how to give them a warm winter welcome....

  • Bring them indoors or move their outdoor hutch to a shed or car-free garage, remember that exhaust fumes can be fatal to your furry friend.
  • Ensure the hutch is dry, well ventilated and has extra warm bedding.
  • Change bedding at least twice a week.

Christmas pet survival guide

Just imagine you are a pet. Christmas seems very strange to you. Humans eat different food in sizes that would keep you going for weeks. They bring strangers into your home who make a lot of noise. They get a tree that you know should only belong outside – and they bring it into your home. They then humiliate it by hanging gaudy-coloured balls off it that you’re not even allowed to play with.

Here are some tips to help make Christmas for your pets less stressful and hazardous for your pets:

Create a Christmas pet den

  • Minimise their stress, by making a quiet, cosy ‘den’ in advance.
  • For dogs, put it behind a sofa in a quiet room.
  • For cats, put it securely on a shelf or chest of drawers: they feel safest when high up.
  • Encourage them to go into their den. Give them healthy treats or praise when they’re relaxed in the den. They will learn to view it as a pleasurable and calm place, where they can escape all the bustle and noise.
  • Place a pheromone diffuser nearby. This will emit calming scents which only pets can smell.

Coping with Christmas decorations

A Christmas tree is a playground full of temptations – shiny decorations and flashing lights. But pets can injure themselves as they explore, so here are some ideas:

  • Supervise your pet in rooms containing trees and presents: keep an eye on them as you would a young child.
  • Keep doors closed when you’re not around.
  • Distract them by allocating some ‘pet playtime’ instead, with suitable toys.
  • Take dogs out for a good run around.
  • Play with your cat using fishing rod-type toys.
  • Remove wrappings, wires as well as toys and batteries after opening. They may cause choking as pets often explore new items with their mouths. Batteries can also cause internal burns if they are swallowed and start leaking.

Kitchen hazards at Christmas

Keep kitchen doors closed so pets can’t get under your feet. With a big Christmas dinner on the go, full of hot ovens and boiling pots and pans, they are more hazardous places than usual.

Christmas food

Keep Christmas food out of the way of pets. Whilst you snooze, they cruise. They’ll sniff out extra treats, but whilst you may feel relaxed about it, as it’s Christmas after all, they can be hazardous. Human food leads to pet obesity. Pets can also choke on turkey bones. Onions, raisins and certain nuts can even be poisonous. Sage and onion stuffing, Christmas cake, chocolate and mince pies can also be harmful

Car journeys

We all buckle up when we travel, so should our pets. It’s for their safety and yours. Unrestrained pets can be distracting when you drive. They can be seriously injured too if you are involved in an accident. So if you’re taking your pets with you when visiting friends and relatives this Christmas, make sure you use pet seat-belts and harnesses for larger pets, and secured pet carriers for smaller pets.

Coping with freezing Christmas temperatures

Hypothermia can occur after just a few minutes in freezing temperatures and can kill. Due to their smaller size, our pets are even more at risk than we are, so prevention is always better than cure:

  • Don’t let any your pets stay outside in freezing temperatures for a lengthy period without access to shelter and warmth.
  • Give a warm dog coat in colder weather if your dog is going to be susceptible.
  • Prevent snowballs from forming by trimming the hair between your dog’s toes or training it to wear doggy boots

What to do if you suspect hypothermia

Act quickly and correctly – it could save your pet’s life:

  • Immediately remove your pet from the cold. Take them into warm, but not hot, surroundings: warming up too quickly can be harmful.
  • Call your vet and follow their advice.
  • Dry them gently with a towel if they are wet.
  • Gradually raise your pet’s body temperature:
  • Either use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel.
  • Or use a hair dryer on a low heat, keep it a moving and hold it at a distance from your pet’s fur, as you would for yourself.
  • Your vet will probably advise bringing your pet in for an appointment. It’s important to do this, even if your pet seems to have recovered.

First Aid in the festive season

Knowing what to do in any emergency can mean the difference between life and death for our pets. Over the festive season it’s more important than ever to make sure you are well prepared in case your pet suffers an accident or injury.

Take a look at the First Aid section on the PDSA website or download the PDSA First Aid leaflet.

It’s Christmas for your small pets too...

Don’t forget about smaller pets either, e.g. rats, rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets. Let them join in the festivities: offer them some of their favourite food wrapped in brown paper. Figuring out how to get to the food is a great challenge to occupy their inquisitive minds. Using relevant objects and puzzle feeders helps animal wellbeing and prevents boredom. This is called ‘environmental enrichment’ – a term often associated with zoos – but it’s equally important for our pets.

Small pets need special care in winter, even on Christmas Day. They are more likely to feel drops in temperature because of their size, so follow these rules:

  • House guinea pigs and rabbits indoors in winter. A warm shed or a car-free garage is ideal, but they should still have access to natural light and an exercise run.
  • Give them extra bedding in the hutch to help keep them warm.
  • Put a blanket or piece of carpet over the hutch to help keep it warm. Make sure this doesn’t obstruct the ventilation.
  • Check water bottles every day to make sure they aren’t frozen.
  • If you have to move the hutch in to your home, make sure it’s kept away from other pets, stressful noises and smoky atmospheres.


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