Brr, it’s cold out there!
It’s nearly Christmas and winter has arrived with a vengeance after a very long, mild and pretty wet season. Many of us are experiencing minus temperatures, snow, ice and cold winds. So, we thought we’d pull together some information and share some of our Supporters Top Tips for winter!!
Please take extra precautions with your animals to avoid potential problems. It goes without saying that any animal from the largest of Clydesdale horses to the smallest of our furry pets will need access to adequate and appropriate food, water and shelter, as well as the chance to exercise as appropriate.
There are some really good resources that are worth checking out (see Useful Links below) including our blogs for dogs and horses. If you have any tips to add, please let us know.
Treatments for signs of distress or injuries
Be sure and call your vet if you are at all worried about your animal showing signs of distress from exposure to cold wet weather, or injury from overdoing the exercise on tricky terrain. Older animals may generally feel the cold more and are more likely to feel stiffer and need a warm-up – just like us!
Many of our followers have highlighted the benefits of different treatments and therapies including:
- Chiropractic care
- Masterson technique
- Bowen therapy
- Herbs, homeopathy, nutraceuticals
More information can be found about these in our modalities section as well as where to find a suitable practitioner. We also have blogs illustrating these treatments in action. Please also chat with your vet or CAM practitioner if you think they may be of some use in an integrated veterinary care approach to any problems.
Looking after horses in winter can be a challenge! We asked equine practitioner and owner of Hedgerow Horse, Caroline Hearn, what her advice is when it comes to looking after horses in cold weather: Winter Care for your Horse – the Holistic Approach. She covers forage, water, exercise, rugs, skin problems and donkeys.
It’s tempting to over rug as I feel the cold! But it’s more about what the horses need rather than how I feel! Ad lib access to good forage and a shelter may well be enough for a horse with a thick coat. I do try and treat each horse as an individual in deciding whether to rug or not and if so, what tog of rug to use. Over rugging can make them sweat which can cause skin issues.
Floating a tennis ball in the water trough can help to slow down the freezing process. I also keep a stone handy to get rid of any ice that does build up, or use my feet!.
Don’t forget that overweight horses are still susceptible to laminitis, even in winter so it’s crucial to monitor them.
Horses cope very well in cold temperatures – it’s wind and rain that they can struggle with. It’s important to provide a windbreak, like a field shelter or even a line of trees, to block some of the wind or rain.
There are some great tips in Walking Your Dog Safely Through Winter Months by Caroline Hearn of Hedgerow Hounds. She highlights the importance of warming up, the problems of tricky terrain underfoot, the dangers of grit and antifreeze, the need to be visible, and what to do if your dog doesn’t want to go for a walk.
Whilst it’s important to keep dogs active, they don’t necessarily need a walk (or their normal length of walk) every day if there are potential difficulties. If the weather is tricky, think about alternative exercises, especially for older dogs. This might include brain games to keep their minds healthy and active – scent games, puzzle feeders or foragers for example. You might also need to adjust their food intake if their daily exercise is reduced.
Some good brain games can be found on the Battersea Dogs Home website.
Our dogs love their Pickpocket Foragers!
It might be that they need a coat for extra warmth. Or even boots to protect them from the ice and cold and to help with balance in slippery situations. Make sure they are dry and warm when they get home.
We put our soggy dogs in Harbour Hounds towelling coats to dry off and warm up after messing about in the snow or otherwise getting wet!
Jack loves his Equafleece jacket when it’s nippy.
Ask your vet about physiotherapy, hydrotherapy or massage techniques that might help them if they get injured or their arthritis is worsened, for example. See our modalities section for more information and how to find suitable practitioners.
We asked canine physiotherapist and Tellington Touch practitioner Julie Moss of Canine Mind and Body Balance for some more pointers:
It is great fun watching our dogs play in the snow. If they love it they get very giddy and can turn into puppies again. BUT, if they have arthritis or recurring lameness problems then they can struggle a bit. They may slow down sooner, not want to walk in it or they may fly around like lunatics then feel very sore the day after.
The problem with snow is that it requires effort to walk through it. We’ve all felt that tiredness when we have walked through snow for any length of time. It’s like walking uphill constantly. It also means you have to bend your legs more. How high do you have to lift your legs to take a step in deep snow? How many times have you lost your wellies because they get stuck?!
If your dog has arthritic joints they likely won’t have the range of pain-free movement to allow them to bend them more and this means it will be painful to do it step after step. If your dog’s balance isn’t great they are going to struggle not to fall, skid and injure themselves because they may get really excited about the snow but not be fit enough to deal with racing around in it.
So, if you know your dog has arthritis or poor balance or mobility, just make sure they take it easy. Let them warm up with a walk first to get everything moving then let them have a short play in shallow snow. If you don’t know if they have problems then snow is a really great way to discover if your dog is having problems staying up or bending their knees or elbows to walk through it. Watch them and see how they are doing and where they choose to walk. Are they avoiding slippy or deep bits? Are they moving slower than usual?
Snow is a great way to do a mini health check because you can see their urine really clearly. If it’s bright yellow or darker brown/yellow it may mean your dog might benefit from drinking more water. Urine that is very bright yellow, dark brown or tinged with pink or red may indicate a problem so if in doubt contact your vet about testing a urine sample.
Maybe if you can only do shorter walks just clear an area in your garden for toilet and a little play. Dogs don’t mind sitting it out in bad weather. There are plenty of fun games you can do indoors.
Several supporters recommended various products to protect their dog’s paws and help with healing soreness.
I use Vita Canis Paw Butter if there are cracks in paw-pads or redness between the toes.
I also put it on my dog’s paws before a walk in the snow to prevent the snow balls between their pads.
Check between their toes for iceballs and soreness. We use Adore the Paw Healing Balm from Hedgerow Hounds if there are sore bits.
Some cats are happy to spend time outdoors whatever the weather, but others may decide the indoor life is for them if the weather becomes too inclement. You might have to spend more time keeping them stimulated with toys indoors to prevent behavioral problems arising from cabin fever. Cat behaviourists like Julie-Anne Thorne from Naturally Cats can help if you find you are getting issues!
Make sure they have enough access to indoor litter trays if they are used to an outside toilet! Extra indoor beds may also be appreciated! Ensure they have somewhere undercover to shelter if they do go outside, especially if you haven’t got a cat flap. If you do have a cat flap – check it’s not blocked by snow!! Pet cats aren’t used to extreme temperatures and can even develop frostbite or hypothermia so it might be best to keep them in, and certainly in at night in really bad weather.
Keep an eye on your cat’s eating habits. With the cold temperatures, you mind find your cat is more hungry than usual as their body is working hard on keeping them warm. So it might be time to give them an extra small meal or a spoonful at mealtimes. Be sure to return to your regular feeding schedule when the weather evens out to prevent excess weight gain.
We’ve put an upturned wooden box lined with straw in the corner of our garden for Mitzu just in case the weather turns.
The dangers of antifreeze and salted paths and roads
Salt may irritate your dog’s paws and cause problems if they consequently lick their feet once home. There may be toxic chemicals in the salt too which can cause problems. Repeated exposure can lead to tissue dehydration and damage. Washing in warm water or wiping their paws (and drying if needed) can prevent soreness and stop them from ingesting any toxins that they may have stood in whilst outside. Antifreeze is an even worse hazard. It seems to be quite palatable, especially to cats. Pets are at risk from standing in it where there have been spillages so please be wary of where your pet might have been. It’s highly toxic for cats in particular, even in small amounts. To quote the British Veterinary Association:
Over half (51%) of vets who treated toxic ingestion in cats over the 2019 festive period saw cases caused by antifreeze….. 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.
We asked Sara Kernohan, co-founder of CAM4animals and a practitioner who works with farmers, for some cold weather tips for farm animals:
One can’t help but feel sorry for farm livestock at this time of year. Most dairy and beef farmers bring their cattle in because it’s easier to look after them indoors. Actually, most cows would rather be in a barn than out on a blowy hill anyway. The land gets chewed up by cloven feet and the cattle hate struggling in the mud (so do the farmers!) and the land takes forever to recover.
Nevertheless, there are livestock, such as sheep who stay out all year and even if they are in a barn, cows also feel the chill winds whistling between the boards of the barn wall. Farmers who have done a farm homeopathy course know to use a variety of different remedies either as a preventative, when they know the temperature is dropping and they want to prevent the usual coughs, or as soon as they see symptoms arise following cold, dry wind or cold, damp conditions.
The number one remedy for ailments from cold, dry wind is Aconite but they might also choose Arsenicum, Hepar sulph or Euphrasia depending upon the symptoms and condition.
Cold-frosty air indicates different remedies, namely Calc-c, Camphor, Pulsatilla, Sepia or Silica. Where the cold, wet weather brings on the rattly coughs, farmers may consider Amm-c or Ant-t. These may be unfamiliar names to the non-homeopath, but they are all part of the farmer’s homeopathy kit which they use to reduce their use of antibiotics. This of course improves the quality of food you buy at the butchers or dairy. You can follow the homeopath farmers’ progress through Whole Health Agriculture and their Farmeopathy Facebook or Instagram profiles.
Rabbits, Guinea Pigs and other small pets
Rabbits, guinea pigs and other small pets are vulnerable to hyperthermia despite their furry coats. Ensure hutches are positioned so that wind, rain, snow or sleet can’t blow in. Make sure they are well protected with extra bedding kept dry as well as insulation from the snow, frost, wind and rain. If the weather is bad, and they are normally kept outside, these smaller pets may need to go indoors for a while. If it’s not possible for them to be in a cool room in the house, then a shed or a garage (without a car) could be suitable. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund advises:
Indoor rabbits who go outside in the daytime: Moving indoor rabbits from a centrally heated house to outside must be carried out with care, and for periods during the daytime only, avoiding leaving them outside in cold, damp weather overnight. It’s also not ideal to keep moving them back and forth, inside to out and back again. It’s best for them to have a settled, secure accommodation.
Outdoor rabbits ……please be aware that if you are bringing them into the house, keep the room unheated. Rabbits are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature so if you put them in a room that is heated, it will be dangerous to put them outside in the cold again.
Fiona Murphy, rabbit expert and bunny bonder adds:
“Please note that straw is warmer than hay, so it’s important to use both (hay for eating and straw for bedding) and if they are in for any decent length of time, even in an unheated room, that the return to living back outside needs to be very gradual, building up during the day. Rabbits that live outdoors grow a thicker coat than those that live indoors, and they can moult it out very easily once inside.”
You can use specially designed heat pads to keep them warm, but give them a choice as to whether to use them. We tend to put extra bedding in and check it / muck it out regularly. If they are outside in bad weather, there’s a risk that bedding may become wet and cold so we make sure the elements can’t reach these areas. If it’s really bad, we take them indoors into a cool unheated room.
We continue to feed our rabbits and guinea pigs a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh veggies to keep them happy. It’s even more important in colder weather.
When we had rabbits, I covered their hutch with old duvets and a canvas tarpaulin, plus put in LOTS of bedding. I made sure they had plenty of greens to nibble on too as the grass was a little lacking. When I only had one left, I was mindful that bunny shouldn’t have a shock from temperature changes if the children brought her into the house for a cuddle – going from warm to cold.
The Blue Cross advises:
Keeping guinea pig hutches warm in winter is very important, hutches should be positioned so that wind, rain, snow or sleet can’t blow in. If the weather’s particularly bad, move the hutch into an unused garage or shed if it’s possible. For guinea pigs, it’s better to keep them inside in winter, in a conservatory or unused garage.
We asked dog trainer and keeper of chickens and ducks, Joe Nutkins for some advice:
Chickens and ducks have excellent internal temperature control from their layers of feathers and in fact, you have to be careful to provide ventilation even when it’s really cold outside as they can heat up the inside of their coop and cause respiratory issues!
However, something to watch for is their water provision as this can get frozen so will need thawing or replacing. It’s important to make regular checks to see that the water hasn’t refrozen during the day too!
Check the wind isn’t blowing snow through the mesh walls of their runs, especially the chickens. It can cover their food and make it harder for them to keep warm. The ducks may eat the snow! You could provide shelter from wind and rain by putting wooden boards, plastic sheets or bales against the side of their run. Provide a covered area so they can get out of the rain.
Take extra care to make sure you clear any ramps of snow and check them regularly.
Having food access throughout the day and maybe extra food can help with keeping warm naturally. Watch for snow getting into the runs and then melting as this will make the ground soaking wet which in turn can cause issues for poultry feet such as Bumblefoot, which is a type of Steph infection.
My chickens have had some extra bedding and extra treats to keep them warm.
Useful links for more information about different animals
Isobel is a Co-Founder and active CAM4animals supporter along with her Jack Russell who has integrated veterinary care. She has a background in wildlife conservation and writing, and is passionate about the importance of addressing animal welfare and environmental issues.
Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information.
This blog may also contain an element of consumer opinion. Whilst CAM4animals welcomes positive recommendations for holistic healthcare products, we don’t necessarily endorse the product or the author’s opinion. We acknowledge that each animal is an individual and may react differently to the highlighted product/s. There may also be other products available that produce similarly positive results.
The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website