AS the Met Office issues yellow weather warnings, RSPCA Cymru is urging people to ensure their animals are comfortable and cared for.
Temperatures have certainly dropped across Wales with the Met Office issuing several yellow warnings across Monmouthshire, Powys and Wrexham over the weekend – with snow and ice affecting north and mid Wales recently.
The RSPCA’s pet welfare specialist Sam Gaines said: “Though we’ve already had some frosty spells during the last few weeks, temperatures are plummeting and we’re all being warned now of ice and even snow. It’s really important we help our animal friends get through the chilly weather, and we’ve got lots of helpful advice and tips available for people to make sure their own pets, and local wildlife, are kept safe.”
Cold weather: Pets
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 15OC. 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.
For more about rabbits, go online, and for further guinea pig information visit the website.
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. Provide plenty of additional dry, warm bedding such as straw and cover enclosures to keep the wind and rain out. Birds will eat more to keep warm in cold conditions so ensure the birds always have access to plenty of food and fresh water, ensuring water does not freeze over.
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 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. And never try to use antifreeze or salt to thaw frozen ponds or birdbaths.
Cold weather: Horses & 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.
Owners could use waterproof rugs to give vulnerable 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 experienced 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 young animals and whether they need extra protection from the cold weather. For more information, visit our website.
Cold weather: Wildlife
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.
For more information, see our website.
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.
Adam Grogan, Head of Wildlife at the RSPCA said: “As the weather turns colder it is important to think about what we can do to help our animal friends.
“Every year, hundreds of 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.”
In an emergency, contact us on our 24-hour cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.
This winter, the RSPCA expects to rescue thousands of animals from neglect, cruelty and suffering. Already this Christmas we received more than 44,000 calls to our cruelty line but the calls to our rescue line are not stopping so neither will we. To help our rescue teams continue to reach the animals who desperately need us this winter, visit www.rspca.org.uk/xmas and Join the Winter Rescue #JoinTheRescue
For more seasonal advice, see http://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/seasonal.