Podcast: looking after pets in cold, snowy weather. Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

We all need to pay attention to the welfare of pets and other animals in this cold weather.
Listen to the podcast below for more.


  • Short coated and small dogs can benefit from a warm coat in cold weather.
  • For bigger dogs, or long furred animals, it is not as essential.
  • Most pet dogs and cats have access to the family home during cold weather, so the temperature is not really an issue for them.
  • Just be sensible when you take them out and about for short walks.

Is it OK for pets to be left outside in cold weather?

  • The short answer is “no”
  • As long as they have a cosy, well insulated, draught free place to shelter- and they might also use a microwavable heat pad in a kennel – it can be fine for pets to be outdoors parts of  the daytime. But in bitterly cold weather, all pets should be be brought indoors overnight.
  •  Funkycribs.ie make custom-made special insulated dog kennels which give more protection than standard kennels, but still, it’s best to bring all animals indoors if possible
  • All pets should be fed more in winter time to allow their body to produce more heat
  • Be aware of the risk of ice on ponds and rivers – dogs don’t know that it can crack and they can fall through and they could easily chase something (eg a ball) onto ice, then get into trouble when it breaks

What about small pets in hutches?

  • Rabbits and guinea pigs are commonly kept  out of doors in Ireland.
  • The Irish climate is fine during the spring, summer and autumn, but as in bitterly cold weather, special attention should be given to them to ensure that they stay healthy and safe.
  • In some cases, it’s possible to adequately protect pets from the cold by adapting the hutch and pen rather than bringing the pet indoors, at least in the daytime. In harsh cold periods and at night, they should be brought indoors.
  • It helps to keep rabbits and guinea pigs in pairs or small groups rather than on their own. They are social creatures that thrive on company, and they help to keep each other warm at night. They do need to be neutered to avoid a continual stream of babies and to prevent fighting. And they’re best kept with their own species: rabbits tend to bully guinea pigs if they share cage space.
  • Feeding is very important. Provide plenty of good quality hay all winter long, and provide extra dry mix during cold spells, as they’ll need the energy to keep them warm. 
  • If bitterly cold weather’s expected, put in a microwavable heat pad that will keep warm for up to 10 hours and bring the entire hutch indoors overnight
  • Clean out the hutch more often in winter; a cold wet bed will result in over-chilled critters by the morning
  • Finally, remember that guinea pigs (but not rabbits) need to have extra vitamin C every day, or they will get scurvy just like humans (rabbits can produce their own Vitamin C, as can dogs and cats etc). You need to give guinea pigs fresh food every day, all winter long, and it’s safest to give them vitamin C (as drops in the water or ground up tablets on the food) every day as well.

What about wildlife

  • Wild animals gather food from the countryside to survive. In cold, snowy weather, the landscape is coated in several inches of snow, and that means that their normal food supply is buried. It’s a tough time, and it’s hard to imagine how many animals survive at all.
  • We can at least help those animals that are close to us, and in particular, we can feed the wild birds. Most commercial type bird food will suffice, topped up perhaps with oat flakes, bread crumbs (not mouldy), and freshly cut half-apples.
  • Some birds need to consume  as much as one third of their body weight each day to survive, and it can be almost impossible for them to do this in the wild.
  • So in snowy weather, double check that your bird feeders are topped up,  and put out fresh warm water twice a day.  It doesn’t take much effort, and you’ll save the lives of some hungry birds out there.

Questions from listeners

  • What about the birds? Throw out any old bread,dried fruit, seeds, nuts, porridge oats, cereals, fat, food leftovers. Dread to think how many will be dying. In this freezing weather. There is a crow lives at limerick regional hospital lost a leg in freezing temperatures. I have seen him there for two years now and always feed him.
  • Is it true that birds should not be given bread as they cannot digest it? I give them porridge oats (uncooked) if i don’t have bird seed to hand. I give them the flat flakes,not the very hard kind.  Hannah Harris. Dalkey.
  • Our poor dog was attacked by a German Shepherd yesterday . He’s very nervous and anxious since. We have inspected him as best we can as he’s a Japanese Spitz and his coat is very thick at the moment. No sign of blood but he did get a big tuft of hair pulled off. Our problem is our vet isn’t open at the moment so not sure if we can find one at the moment. Is there anything we can do to treat him at home?
  • My dog lay down on the ground this morning and couldn’t walk. The path was gritted, is there something in the gritting that is damaging?
  • Is it safe to walk dogs on the grit?
  • Do African Grey parrots feel the cold?
  • Can I walk my Bichon ( Ozzy) in the snow?

Listen to the podcast below to learn more

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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