With Ireland's cold snap forecasted to continue into the weekend with freezing conditions, snow and ice all on the cards, spare a thought for how our furry friends outside are fairing.
With that in mind, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) has called on pet owners to be particularly vigilant of their animals during the current cold snap to avoid cases of unnecessary suffering arising.
The ISPCA has witnessed many cases of cruelty and neglect in recent weeks due to the adverse weather conditions and has offered the following safety advice and tips to keep our four-legged friends safe and warm this winter.
Some dogs may be a little reluctant to head out on chillier days, but there is plenty you can do to help. Consider taking dogs for more frequent and shorter walks to avoid being outside for too long on really cold days. This is especially important for smaller breeds and sight hounds that have a harder time keeping warm. If you are concerned about exercising your dog outdoors for any reason, look into indoor training or agility classes in your area. If all your dog needs is a little encouragement, you can offer them occasional treats as you leave the house and on your walk!
Older dogs as well as smaller or thinner breeds tend to really feel the cold, so consider providing warm jackets to vulnerable pets. For those with a big, full coat, try not to clip your dog’s hair too short and their heavy winter coat should keep them plenty warm.
Cold weather can cause dry, flaky skin and cracked, sore paws, so if you know your dog is prone to this, take steps to reduce their risk. Make sure you dry their skin and paws thoroughly after a walk, and don’t forget in between the toes! Salt can cause sores to the pads, and de-icing chemicals are very dangerous if ingested, so make sure you remove all residue from their paws. If you think your pet has ingested anti-freeze, please contact your vet immediately. If your dog has very sensitive paws, or already has injuries to them, there are ‘booties’ available in some pet shops if necessary. Most dogs aren’t too keen on the feel of the booties, so you may have to do some positive training to show to help them get comfortable.
While indoor-only cats will be affected very little by the cold weather, outdoor cats will certainly be feeling the chill at this time of year! You may consider keeping outdoor cats in more over the winter, especially on very cold days, and locking them in at night for safety. Cats are great at finding warm spots to sleep, but sometimes these are dangerous, like under the hood of a car. Make sure to check your car for sleeping kitties before you drive. You could also provide a clean, dry outdoor shelter with bedding for them to use. When your cat comes in from outside, wipe them down to take off excess water, salt, or grit, and make sure they don’t have any anti-freeze on their paws.
Horses and ponies
With the inclement weather at this time of year, all horses and ponies need some kind of shelter. For some lighter coated breeds, such as thoroughbreds, shelter may not be enough and they need to be rugged to protect them from the biting cold or driving rain. Even heavier coated ponies can suffer from rain scald, a disease that starts as simple irritating bumps on the animal but, left untreated, can escalate to crusty scabs and severe lesions on the more exposed areas of the animal, such as the back, neck and head. The thin skin around the legs is also highly susceptible if the horse or donkey spends too long standing in wet muddy ground without a dryer area to escape to.
There are many types of rug to choose from; the type that suits an individual will vary will depending on breed. With the milder winter, some heavier coated equines will just need a rain proof rug to protect them from rain scald, whereas lighter coated animals will need a heavier rug to protect them from rain and cold.
Regardless of the type one chooses, it is important that the rug is the correct size as an improper fitting will restrict the equines movement which could cause expensive damage to the rug or, more concerning, cause the animal to become tangled and injure itself. Even with a familiar rug it is important check the animal regularly to ensure the rug hasn't become torn or damaged on fences or hedges, and to remove it regularly. This gives the opportunity to make sure the rug isn't chafing your horse, and to brush them clean of any dander or hair, which may cause irritation. Heavier rugs can cause a horse to overheat during the intermittent periods of sunshine this time of year so in paddocks or stables where water isn't freely available it is important to keep an ample supply to make up for moisture lost to sweat.