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.

“The Vet Says……” – Antifreeze Poisoning in Cats and Dogs

As this glorious summer comes to an end, no doubt many of you will be making things are ready for winter. Salt for the path, carrot for the snowman’s nose and of course antifreeze for the car. But beware, antifreeze can be harmful to pets so care needs to be taken. Ethylene glycol is a constituent of antifreeze and is toxic to cats causing acute kidney failure. It is sweet tasting and attracts cats, dogs & children for this very reason.

It can also be found in some cosmetics, some plants, radiator coolant, decorative snow globes & air conditioning coolant. Ethylene Glycol  quickly breaks down once ingested and although the kidneys will deal with some of it, the remainder forms Calcium Oxalate Crystals that block the kidneys causing necrosis. It is the metabolic processes within a cat that form the by-products that are highly toxic to cats. As little as a teaspoon can be fatal in cats or two tablespoons for dogs. Ingestion of even the smallest amount should be treated very seriously and requires immediate veterinary treatment. Cats are about four times as sensitive to this poison as dogs and their smaller size adds to the risk they face.


Within 30 minutes to 12 hours of ingestion,  a cat will show the following….

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Will appear intoxicated, may stumble &  appear dizzy.
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Not eating
  • Excitability

After a time, these symptoms may pass, but your pet is not out of danger as the next stage will set in without treatment. The second stage is usually 12-24 hours after ingestion and symptoms may include

  • Rapid breathing & heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Lethargy

The third stage symptoms include

  • Kidney failure
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Coma


It is important that if you can identify the source of the poison, you take it with you or take details of the product including chemical composition. Your vet can do various tests including blood & urine to evaluate toxicity and the extent of damage to the kidneys. The sooner the cat gets treatment, the better it’s prognosis. Early treatment may include inducing vomiting to try and reduce the absorption of the antifreeze.  Further treatment will be to support the kidneys  and sometimes chemicals can be administered to reduce the effect of antifreeze on the kidneys. As well as damage to the kidneys this poison can also affect the central nervous system and it is not possible to reverse this damage.


As always, prevention is better than cure. The following simple steps can be taken to reduce the risk…

  • Keep antifreeze sealed and away from pets.
  • If you change the antifreeze on your car, make sure all spills are thoroughly washed away.
  • Do not let your pet drink from puddles.
  • Do not let your pet into your garage or any others.
  • Check your car regularly for leaks.

Rat poison and dogs – best kept separate

Dogs and rats really are on the opposite end of the animal spectrum. While dogs are considered to be ‘man’s best friend’ and treated like a member of the family, rats, on the whole, are resigned to living in the gutter and feeding off rubbish. I know rats played a pretty big role in spreading the bubonic plague which killed over seventy million people about seven hundred years ago, but is it not about time for us to forgive and forget? Apparently not, because rat poison is readily available in many high street shops. So it looks like our opinions of rats are not going be changing any time soon, despite Disney’s best efforts!

The problem is, the kind of places that you put rat poison are the kind of places your pet, specifically your dog, will find it. Most people, as you might expect, leave rat poison at ground level, whether in the house or the garage. And let’s be honest, dogs are not exactly too picky when they spy what they think is a treat that they can help themselves to. But poison is created to cause harm and while rats are much smaller animals than dogs, it can have a serious effect on dogs if they mistakenly eat it or a rodent that died as a result of eating the poison. We’re going to get a bit technical here so bear with me. The poisoning occurs when the dog is exposed to a substance known as bromethalin, a toxic chemical found in most rat poisons.

Ingesting bromethalin can lead to a variety of health related problems in a dog, with the most serious being internal bleeding which can of course be fatal. There are a wide range of symptoms to look out for, although they may take three or four days to show up. Some of the most common symptoms include loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, breathing difficulty and seizures. There are a variety of treatments available to vets. Vomiting can be induced to decontaminate the dog’s digestive tract and charcoal can be administered to clear the dog’s bowels. Vitamin K can also be administered as rat poisons remove it from the dog’s body which means the dog’s blood cannot clot properly.

The most important thing to remember is to make sure you get your pet to your local veterinary surgery as quickly as possible as time can be key when it comes to treating this type of poisoning. If caught early enough, treatment can be successful. But the best way to make sure your pet does not suffer from poisoning is to be extra vigilant when you put the poison down. Try to fence off the area where the poison has been placed or just keep a closer eye on where your dog is while it is there. As they say, prevention is the best cure.

Xylitol – A commonly found compound that is poisonous to dogs

What on earth is Xylitol, I hear you say. It’s a product used in lots of sugar-free products such as sugar-free gum, drinks and sweeteners. It can also be found in some cakes, chocolates & other produce where it is a substitute for sugar. What’s the harm in that if it keeps the pounds off? Unfortunately it is highly toxic to dogs so you need to make sure your dogs don’t have access to it. Dogs love to raid the fridge, the cupboard and anywhere else they think they may find a tasty morsel to see them through to their next meal. This leaves them at risk if they can get to any of these products, so best to keep them in cupboards that are above work surfaces so they can’t get their paws into them. Sugar free gum is the most common product Xylitol is found in so particular care needs to be taken when buying this. Don’t leave open packets lying around and make sure unopened packets are safely tucked away. It can also be found in dental products including toothpaste & mouthwash. These should never be used on your dog unless they are specifically ‘Animal Toothpastes’.

How much is harmful? I’m afraid to say that even very small amounts can be harmful to dogs – ingesting as little as 100milligrams of xylitol per kilogram of bodyweight may cause a life threatening hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). One piece of sugar free gum will generally contain about 0.3g of xylitol, while others can contain as much as 1g in each piece. If a cake recipe requires 1 cup of xylitol to make 24 cupcakes, then two cupcakes could cause acute liver disease in a 50lb dog. Smaller dogs are more at risk and need to receive immediate treatment if you know they have ingested xylitol or are showing the common symptoms. A drop in blood sugar can occur within 15 minutes and symptoms can start to present after around 30 minutes.

What are the Symptoms? The commonest symptoms are

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia (uncoordinated movements / stumbling around)
  • Depression
  • Hypokalemia (decreased potassium)
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Liver dysfunction and/or failure

Vomiting is usually the first symptom, but your dog can vomit for many reasons, so it is important to try to ascertain the cause quickly and see what they may have eaten. The signs of hypoglycaemia can be lethargy, ataxia, collapse & seizures. If vomiting is accompanied by any of these then you need to contact your vet immediately. Sometimes dogs do not display the signs of hypoglycaemia prior to the onset of liver failure, instead lethargy and vomiting occurred 9-72 hours after ingestion.  This was accompanied by spots of bleeding on the skin & mucus membranes (e.g.  gums) and bleeding into the stomach.

What should I do if I think my dog has ingested Xylitol? It is important to try to establish the source so that you can tell your vet what your dog has ingested and how much of it. Contact your vet immediately and give them the details. You should not induce vomiting unless specifically instructed by your vet. Follow your vet’s advice, which will almost certainly be to bring them in as quickly as possible for treatment.  Your dog will probably be treated with dextrose (a type of sugar) to raise their blood sugar levels and also medication to prevent liver disease. If your dog has only ingested a small amount of xylitol and receives immediate treatment, then the chances are they will make a good recovery. However larger doses or where treatment isn’t promptly given will likely have a poor prognosis and can be fatal.

Remember Prevention is better than cure, so always keep products containing xylitol away from your dog. If you think they may have ingested xylitol, contact your vet immediately telling them how much and when.

Chocolate and dogs don’t mix

Everyone loves a treat. And more often than not, a treat will include chocolate in some form or another. Chocolate is a luxury that we discover as children and we continue to enjoy throughout our lives. And as any dog owner will attest, man’s best friend loves a treat too.

Whether it is a reward as part of a training regime or you just want to spoil your pet, you can be sure that it will be cheerfully accepted. But while many dog owners treat their pet like another member of the family, unfortunately chocolate is one human treat that shouldn’t be shared with them. But why is this? Brace yourselves, here comes the scientific bit… Chocolate contains Theobromine, a chemical compound found in the cacao plant, which produces the seeds used to make chocolate. It is not present in sufficient amounts to cause any harm to humans (unless a significant quantity of chocolate is consumed) but unfortunately this is not the case for our canine friends. Domestic animals such as dogs metabolize Theobromine much more slowly than humans, which means it takes longer for their bodies to break it down. It attacks a dog’s central nervous system and heart muscle, leading to Theobromine poisoning which can be fatal for dogs.

The amounts of chocolate differ depending on the size of dog but as little as eight or nine ounces of chocolate can cause distress. Initial symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhoea and restlessness with more serious cases involving seizures, respiratory problems and cardiac problems and at worst, death. The bigger the dog, the greater amount of chocolate it takes to induce symptoms which can last for up to three days. The strength of the symptoms also depends on the type of chocolate ingested. White chocolate contains the least amount of Theobromine while dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain the highest amount.

Fortunately, Theobromine poisoning can be treated by a vet, although obviously it is important to get your dog to the surgery as soon as possible. Medical procedures can include inducing vomiting (as long as the pet arrives within two hours of ingesting the chocolate) as well as the administration of various medications to treat seizures and heart conditions and other symptoms.

However all is not lost if your dog develops a taste for chocolate as there are a wide range of imitation chocolate products on the market for dogs. They are not easy to come by but can be found online. So to sum up, it is probably safest to avoid feeding your dog chocolate at all. At least you now know that if your pooch does accidentally eat a bit by mistake, it won’t necessarily be life threatening. However if you are in doubt, do not take any risks and make sure you bring your pet to the local veterinary surgery. Just like with any member of the family, better safe than sorry.