Looking after your pets during the winter months.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. We are heading towards winter and it’s the time of year where you will be wearing your big coat, plus a bobble hat and scarf to keep warm.  Even though your pets are covered in fur, they will need a bit of help to keep warm too -especially if they are very young or very old. Also, dogs such as whippets, greyhounds and other dogs with low body fat or thin coats will need help keeping out the cold.

Below are a few hints and tips on looking after your pet’s health during the winter months.

Firstly, we recommend you read our blog about the dangers of anti-freeze poisoning. Click here to take a look. Antifreeze can be harmful to pets so care needs to be taken. Ethylene glycol is a constituent of antifreeze and is toxic causing acute kidney failure. It is sweet tasting and attracts cats, dogs & children for this very reason.

If you have a dog, no matter the weather, it will still need a walk. It’s worthwhile remembering that if you are cold there is a good chance your dog will be cold too.  If there is a lot of snow , remember that the smaller breeds of dogs that are trudging belly deep through the snow will feel the effects quicker than a larger dog.  Another thing to be careful of is hidden dangers below the snow. There could be broken glass, barbed wire or other sharp objects. Try and stick to well know routes to minimise the risk of your dog getting injured.

Ice Balls – Now this isn’t a big danger but if not checked it can cause discomfort and pain. If you have been out with your dog in the snow, check their feet for ice or compacted snow.

If it’s icy it may not be a good idea to throw balls or sticks as your dog may slip and injure itself. Take it easy unless you know the ground is ok to run around on.

Every year there are a number of reports where dogs fall through thin ice and either drown or suffer from hypothermia. If you walk your dog near large ponds or lakes, do not let them go onto the ice as you will not be able to tell how thick or safe it is.

If you are out walking your dog in the dark, you will be seen a lot easier if both you & your dog are wearing something reflective.

Don’t leave a dog or a cat outside for long periods without providing access to shelter and warmth.  As they could  suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. The most common cause of hypothermia is when a pet has been outside  for too long in freezing rain or snow.

During the summer months you are advised not to leave pets in your car as they could suffer from heatstroke.  When it’s cold you should not to leave your pets in the car as it can get very cold.

Could you spot the signs of hypothermia?   In severe casesyour pet might not show typical signs such as shivering, but it may become lethargic, disorientated and will have a slow heart rate and problems breathing.  Also, it will have cold ears and feet.  If you believe your animal may have hypothermia you should dry off your pet as quickly as possible (if it’s wet), wrap it up in warm towels together with a coveredhot water bottle to help raise the body temperature. Also, contact your vet for advice.

If you have an older cat or dog, it’s a good idea to keep them away from cold drafts and make sure they have a warm bed especially if they have arthritis.  If they are going out for walks, older dogs will appreciate a warm jacket when they go outside.  If you are going out and leaving your pet at home make sure the house is warm. Older pets will feel the cold in their joints and will be uncomfortable.

Cats are happy to sit inside and keep warm, however, if you cat normally goes to the toilet outside they may have second thoughts about going out in the cold and will hold onto their urine to the point where it is dangerous.  By holding it in cats may run the risk of infections and blockages.  To make it easier for them, leave a litter tray out for their use. If that doesn’t work you will have to be cruel to be kind and take them outside to do their business.

Small Furries

If you keep guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits, they can be kept outside but it’s advisable to move them indoors. Keep them in a warm shed or a car-less garage (fumes from the exhaust can be harmful to your pets)

Cover the hutch at night with a blanket or an old piece of carpet making sure it is still well ventilated. Also, add some extra bedding for warmth.  Remember to keep an eye on your pet’s water bottle to make sure it isn’t frozen.


If you have a pond that contains fish and it freezes over it is important to remember to put a hole in the ice. By doing this it releases the toxic metabolic by-products such as carbon dioxide.  Do not break the ice by force as this could cause distress to the fish.  Use a saucepan of hot water to gently melt a hole in the ice. Do not tip boiling water straight onto the pond as this could harm the fish.

A lot of the tips we have given are common sense but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.  If you have any questions about pet care please call the clinic or leave a message on our Facebook page and someone will reply to you as soon as they can.

An In-Depth Look at Arthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease)

Arthritis strictly means inflammation of the joint and there are many possible causes of this. When we talk about arthritis we are usually talking about a specific type of arthritis called degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis.

DJD is the commonest joint disease seen in many different breeds of dogs and cats and is often a major reason for euthanasia. DJD affects the movable synovial joints such as the elbow and hip joints. Synovial joints are formed where the ends of two bones meet. The ends of the bones are covered in very smooth ARTICULAR CARTILAGE. The SYNOVIAL MEMBRANE lines the inside of the joint capsule and produces SYNOVIAL FLUID which lubricates the joint. The tough JOINT CAPSULE covers the outside of the joint. Articular Cartilage is made up of :

  • water
  • cartilage cells called chondrocytes
  • the matrix ( material that fills the gaps between the cells). This is made of collagen fibres and a ground substance rich in substances called proteoglycans such as chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, keratin sulphates and glycosaminoglycans. Articular cartilage is translucent and glass-like to the naked eye.


  1. The main biochemical change that occurs in cartilage when DJD is present is loss of proteoglycans. This is due to the proteoglycans in the cartilage matrix being broken down by enzymes. It is unclear whether these enzymes are produced by the chondrocytes within the cartilage or come from outside the joint. The major role of articular cartilage is to provide a smooth, friction free movement between the bone ends. Due to this proteoglycan loss the cartilage loses the ability to do this. Furthermore, the cartilage becomes eroded away because it loses its normal structure.
  2. Synovial fluid production reduces further reducing joint lubrication.
  3. New bone forms around the joint. These are called osteophytes.
  4. Synovial membrane is sometimes inflamed (called synovitis)
  5. Surrounding joint capsule becomes thickened (fibrosis)
  6. Bone ends underneath the cartilage becomes thickened (sclerosis)

Causes of DJD

1.Primary DJD is a disorder of ageing. Cartilage degeneration occurs but the cause is unknown. 2.Secondary DJD much more common in animals. Secondary DJD occurs as a result of a number of problems including: -abnormal loading of the joint due to the joint not developing properly eg hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia -due to instability in the joints e.g cruciate ligament rupture -as a result of infections or immune mediated damage to the joint -due to joint fractures

Clinical Signs of DJD

Clinical signs vary depending on the severity of the DJD and the number of joints affected. Stiffness (especially after rest) and reduced activity are very common. These signs are often attributed to getting old and as a result treatment is often not given. Animals who are stiff and lame are in pain even though they rarely cry out or complain. Affected animals may be lame on one or a number of legs depending on how many joints are affected.


Examination by the veterinarian may reveal pain, crepitus (clicking or crunching), swollen joints. Xrays are the best way to diagnose DJD and there are a number of characteristic findings. As secondary DJD is most common it is important to look for underlying reasons for the DJD e.g hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia etc. Xray changes and clinical signs sometimes do not always agree e.g changes may be mild on an Xray but the dog may be very lame and vice versa. Treatment is based on clinical signs rather than Xray changes.


DJD is usually progressive regardless of treatment. Identifying an underlying cause e.g FCP in the elbow may mean that surgery is required to deal with the initiating cause. Most cases of DJD are treated as follows:

  1. Weight control. The importance of this can not be over emphasised. Many dogs and cats are overweight and even a small amount of extra weight can make a major difference to the forces put on the joints e.g during the movement of going from sit to standing a force that is nine times your pets weight is loaded throughout each knee. Therefore, if your pet is 5kg overweight there is an additional 35kg on each knee just when standing up !!. Furthermore, obesity is now recognised as an inflammatory condition. Obese animals have higher levels of inflammatory products in their blood stream and these may aggravate the DJD.
  2. Exercise Put simply, too much exercise is as bad as not enough. Excessive exercise will cause pain and lameness in dogs with DJD. This may manifest itself as lameness during exercise or, more often,  as stiffness after rest after exercise. Little and often gentle exercise is much better than long walks irregularly. On the other hand , too little exercise means that joint mobility and muscle tone is adversely affected. Swimming, especially controlled hydrotherapy, is an excellent exercise for dogs with DJD. Also, physiotherapy can be hugely beneficial
  3. Drugs a)    NSAIDs. The cornerstone of DJD treatment is Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS). They have both anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain killing) effects. All NSAIDs have the potential to cause side effects in some animals. These include: –       Gastro-intestinal side effects such as vomiting and diarrhoea can occur. More seriously ulceration of the gastro-intestinal tract can occur. This causes vomit with blood in it, black tar like faeces (malaena), and can be fatal if left untreated. –       Exacerbation of degradation of the articular cartilage by increasing cartilage breakdown or by reducing glycosaminoglycan synthesis. Thus, the drug that is most commonly used for treating DJD has been shown to speed up the progress and deterioration of the disease. –       Kidney toxicity. Nsaids can be damaging to kidneys especially where there is existing kidney disease or when there is risk of low blood pressure such as dehydration, heart disease, general anaesthetic –       Affect blood clotting –       Liver toxicity especially if there is pre-existing liver disease. Occasionally bizarre liver reactions occur. Therefore, as with all drugs they must be used carefully and under strict veterinary supervision. Despite these potential side effects thousands of  dogs and cats are safely treated with NSAIDS. b)    Steroids. Steroids will help to reduce joint inflammation but have many side effects making them generally unsuitable for treating DJD c)    Surgical treatment to correct underlying problems. Also joint replacements such as hip replacements. d)    Polysulphated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAG). This is a compound that is used to try and reduce cartilage degeneration in the the joint i.e it slows down the progress of DJD. PSGAG is administered via an injection. The proposed way that it works is by inhibiting the enzymes that breakdown the cartilage and stimulating the production of lubricant in the joint. There have been a number of laboratory studies showing the effect of PSGAG on reducing the activity of the degrading enzymes. There is nota huge amount of clinical trial data to prove the efficacy of PSGAGs but clinical experience suggests that there is a benefit in certain individuals. Dogs that have cancer should not be treated with PSGAGS because it can cause bleeding in such dogs. e)    Nutraceuticals include chondroitin, glucosamine, and magnesium ascorbate. The theory behind using these products is that they provide precursors for the repair of damaged articular cartilage or at least slowdown the degeneration of the cartilage. There is anecdotal evidence they work but no high quality clinical trial data. They have very few reported side effects but they may not have any effect at all! Also, because they are not highly regulated the purity and composition of some of these products cannot be verified. f)      Fatty acids may reduce inflammation in DJD by reducing the production of a substance called prostaglandins. Long chain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid seem to be effective. g)    Antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E may also have beneficial effects in DJD. Again clinical data in dogs is scarce but there are possible benefits demonstrated in mice experimentally.