Posted 27th Feb 2018
With the Beast From The East rearing its head, the RSPCA is urging people to take the necessary precautions to make sure their pets stay safe and warm
Snow showers have been forecast across Scotland, northern England, eastern and south-eastern parts of England.
Rabbits and guinea pigs
The charity advises keeping a close eye on outdoor pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs. If the temperature starts to reach freezing, you should consider moving your rabbit hutch inside or into an outhouse, shed or unused garage. It's recommended that guinea pigs should be housed indoors if temperatures go below 15C. If you do bring your pet indoors, they will still need plenty of time and room to be able to exercise in a safe and secure environment. If you need to leave them outside, make sure you provide them with extra bedding (for instance, dust-free hay) and ensure their home is protected from adverse weather. Covers can be purchased to help insulate hatches in the winter months, but take care that there is adequate ventilation.
For rabbits and guinea pigs housed in a hutch, a sloped roof will be preferable, as it allows 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 the wind and rain.
If your rabbit or guinea pig does get wet, rub them dry with a towel and ensure they have plenty of warm bedding.
Cats should have constant access to the house or a warm, inside area such as an outbuilding or barn with appropriate heating. Make sure the bedding or sleeping area is warm, dry and away from any draughts.
Be careful - antifreeze and rock salt can be poisonous to pets. If you have an elderly or sickly dog, you can always buy a special coat or jumper to keep them warm when you're out on a walk. Make sure your dog can still behave normally (for instance, go to the toilet easily), and it is a good and comfortable fit. When you're walking your dog in the dark, wear reflective clothing and think about a reflective collar or light for his collar to keep you safe.
Make sure you keep your pet dog away from frozen ponds, lakes or rivers which could pose a danger, and take care that their paws don't get impacted with snow.
If you keep pet birds in aviaries, coops or runs, they will also need protecting. Have plenty of additional dry, warm bedding such as straw and cover enclosures to keep the wind and rain out. Birds eat more to keep warm in cold conditions, so make sure the birds have access to plenty of food and fresh water (and make sure this does not freeze over).
Avoid housing animals, including birds, in greenhouses, and take appropriate caution if they stay in conservatories too.
If you do have a fish pond, check it every day to make sure the surface is not completely frozen, as poisonous gases could build up beneath the ice. Don't break the ice - this could harm the fish - but instead, carefully place a saucepan of hot water on the surface to gently melt a hole. Also, you should make sure you never tip any boiling water straight onto the pond - this can harm or kill any fish living there. You should also avoid antifreeze or salt to thaw frozen ponds or birdbaths.
Horses and livestock will require both extra time and care in the colder, winter months. Make sure they have suitable shelter to escape the adverse weather and are willing to provide extra feed and good quality long fibre, as grass will often be sparse. It will be important to check water troughs and buckets are clear of ice.
Waterproof rugs can be used to give horses extra protection, and if it's especially wet and muddy, check the hooves for problems such as abscesses and loose shoes, and legs, for signs of mud fever. Owners need to ensure their horses have access to a dry resting area, where they are out of the mud.
When you're riding in the winter, be wary of getting your horse sweated up - they could easily catch a chill. You should also 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, including being cut off by bad weather.
Farmers and smallholders should give young animals extra attention, to see if the need additional protection from the elements or not.
Wildlife can struggle to find food during the winter months - you can help them stay strong over this period by leaving out extra food for them.
This can include suitable seeds and grains, such as oats and sunflower seeds; cooked pasta or rice; boiled potatoes, cheese, or uncooked salted bacon rind; raisins and sultanas; net-free fat or suet balls' apples, pears and soft fruits' insects such as mealworms or waxworms.
Be careful to only feed them peanuts if unsalted, fresh and sold for human consumption, or from a reputable feed shop, and be sure to chop them up or put them in good quality mesh feeders.
Keep bird baths free of ice, leave out bowls of clean water, and leave the feeders and water bowls clean.
You should also take care to check any wood or leaf piles for wild animals such as hedgehogs, frogs and mice before lighting any bonfires - if you happen to find a wild animal in hibernation leave them be
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."
Tips and information courtesy of RSPCA