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British Veterinary Association warns pet owners to be aware of winter hazards including toxic grit that can make animals sick

Pet owners are being urged to be vigilant to wintry weather hazards that could make their animals seriously ill as the cold spell continues with parts of the country covered in a blanket of snow.

The British Veterinary Association is issuing a warning to those with dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs to be alert to the dangers the current cold snap may cause as temperatures plummet.

Owners should be cautious during the cold snap says the BVA
Owners should be cautious during the cold snap says the BVA

Toxic grit and poisonous anti freeze are among the dangers the BVA is most concerned about as it appeals to those with animals to take extra measures to protect them from harm.

While dogs still need exercise during cold spells, alongside putting coats on older animals or those with thin fur, walkers should pay particular attention to anything harmful their animal may encounter on route.

Paws and tummies should be wiped well on returning home to remove any ice or salt they've collected while paw-pads should be checked for cracks or redness between the toes. Grit and rock salt, warns the BVA, can be 'extremely toxic' to dogs and cats if eaten so its crucial to make sure it's not brought back indoors.

Antifreeze is particularly harmful to cats
Antifreeze is particularly harmful to cats

Antifreeze is also very poisonous, particularly for cats, which the felines can find in scattered de-icing products discarded on the ice and sometimes in ornamental water features where undiluted antifreeze is used to protect pumps from freezing.

British Veterinary Association senior vice president Justine Shotton said: "Antifreeze is a huge hazard for cats, so contact your vet immediately if you see signs of poisoning such as vomiting, depression, lack of coordination, seizures and difficulty breathing.

"Rabbits and guinea pigs are also vulnerable to hypothermia despite their warm coats, so owners should take steps to ensure any outdoor hutches are well protected from the snow, cold draughts and winter rain.

"If you have any concerns about your pet in this cold weather, please consult your local vet for advice."

If temperatures drop small animals may need to come inside
If temperatures drop small animals may need to come inside

Other cold weather tips from the BVA include:

* Providing shelters that are free from draughts;

* Line beds with extra blankets when temperatures drop;

* Consider keeping older cats indoors during cold snaps while making sure healthy, young cats have easy access to shelter and warmth;

* Hutches or runs should be in a sheltered position, away from wind, rain and snow, and at least 10cm off the ground. They can be lined with newspaper extra hay and covered an old duvet, blanket or tarpaulin;

* Rabbits need a temperature between 10C and 20C (with the lower end accounting for healthy rabbits kept with others and lots of bedding for warmth) and guinea pigs 5C to 20C, avoiding significant fluctuations in temperature. If the weather becomes very severe families should consider moving smaller outdoor pets inside;

* Check outdoor water bottles, bowls and troughs regularly to ensure they're not frozen over.

Paws and tummies should be cleaned and free of ice and grit after a walk
Paws and tummies should be cleaned and free of ice and grit after a walk

The Met Office says snow, freezing temperatures and wintry showers are expected to remain over the UK this week with numerous weather warnings in place across England and Scotland.

Chief Meteorologist Steve Willington said: "It is staying cold with daytime temperatures remaining only a few degrees above freezing in many places over the coming days and overnight temperatures dropping to -10C or lower in isolated spots.

"Although below average, these temperatures are not that unusual for this time of year but nevertheless, can be impactful for people and their pets. We have a number of snow and ice warnings in place at the moment."

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