As the Met Office forecasts frosty conditions and possible snow, the RSPCA is urging people to ensure their animals are safe and warm.
Following an unseasonably warm December and start to 2016, weather forecasters have predicted that temperatures will continue dropping.
As the winter weather finally arrives in the UK, the RSPCA is releasing advice to ensure animals stay healthy during the colder weather, and tips on how to help wildlife survive the wintry spell.
As the temperature begins to drop, the RSPCA advises keeping a closer eye on outdoor pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs. If the temperature starts to reach freezing, you may wish to consider moving your rabbit hutch inside or into an outhouse, shed or unused garage. We recommend that guinea pigs are housed indoors when temperatures are below 15’C. If you do bring your rabbits or guinea pigs indoors, they still need plenty of time and room to exercise in a safe and secure environment. If you have to leave them outside, you must provide them with lots of extra bedding, such as dust-free hay, and make sure their home is protected from adverse weather. For example, covers can be purchased to help insulate hutches in the winter months, but care must be taken to ensure there is adequate ventilation.
For rabbits and guinea pigs housed in a hutch, a sloped roof is preferable to allow water to drain away. Hutches should be raised off the ground by at least four inches and placed in a sheltered position, facing away from wind and rain.
If your rabbit or guinea pig gets wet, rub them dry with a towel and make sure they have plenty of warm bedding.
Cats should have constant access to the house or to a warm, inside area such as an outbuilding or barn with appropriate heating. You should also ensure the cat’s bedding or sleeping area is warm, dry and away from any draughts.
Be aware that antifreeze and rock salt can be poisonous to pets.
If you have an elderly or sickly dog, you can buy a special coat or jumper to keep them warm when you’re out on walks. Make sure your dog can still behave normally, for example, go to the toilet easily and that it is a good and comfortable fit.
When walking your dog in the dark, wear reflective clothing and think about a reflective collar or light for his collar to keep you both safe.
Keep your pet dog away from frozen ponds, lakes or rivers which can pose a danger, and make sure their paws don’t get impacted with snow.
If you keep pet birds in aviaries, coops, or runs, then you should also protect them from the cold weather. Cover enclosures to keep the wind and rain out, and ensure the birds always have access to food and fresh water.
Don’t house animals, including birds, in greenhouses and take caution if housing them in conservatories.
If you have a fish pond check it every day to make sure the surface is not entirely frozen as poisonous gasses 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. And never try to use antifreeze or salt to thaw frozen ponds or birdbaths.
Horses and livestock
Horses and livestock require extra time and care in the colder, winter months.
Ensure they have adequate shelter to escape adverse weather and be prepared to provide extra feed and good quality long fibre, as grass is often sparse. It is also important to check water troughs and buckets are clear of ice.
If shelter is not sufficient, owners should use waterproof rugs to give their horses added protection from the cold and wet weather.
If it is particularly wet and muddy, it is important to 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.
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.
Make arrangements with a reliable and experience person to take care of your horse or livestock in case of an emergency, such as being cut off by bad weather.
Farmers and smallholders should give extra consideration to baby and young animals and whether they need extra protection from the cold weather.
Birds can struggle to find food during the winter months so, to help them stay strong over this period, householders can leave out extra food for them.
You can feed them suitable seeds and grains, like oats and sunflower seeds; cooked pasta or rice; boiled potatoes, cheese, or uncooked unsalted bacon rind; raisins and sultanas; net-free fat or suet balls; apples, pears and soft fruits; insects such as mealworms or waxworms. Only feed peanuts if unsalted, fresh and sold for human consumption or by a reputable feed shop, and make sure to either chop them up or put them out in good quality mesh feeders.
Keep bird baths free of ice, leave out bowls of clean water, and keep any feeders and water bowls clean.
Make sure you check carefully any wood or leaf piles for wild animals such as hedgehogs, frogs and mice, before lighting any fires or bonfires. If you find wild animals in hibernation, be sure to leave them be.
Remember – if you see an animal outside in the cold that looks like it is suffering, take a note of the location, the time and date and call the RSPCA on the emergency line 0300 1234 999.
RSPCA scientific officer Llewelyn Lowen said: “As the weather turns colder it is important to think about what we can do to help our animal friends.
“Every year, between one and two thousand wild animals are brought into RSPCA wildlife centres in December, January and February suffering from dehydration, hunger and cold.
“A few little changes to your everyday routine can really make a difference to animals. For example, a little bit of extra food left out for a hungry bird may be the help it needs to last through a spate of frosty weather or, if you have rabbits kept outside, you will need to provide them with lots of extra bedding and their home should be placed in a sheltered position, facing away from the prevailing wind and rain.”