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22/01/2013 - How to help animals during cold weather

Wild rabbit in the snow

As the weather takes a turn for the worse, the National RSPCA offers advice to animal lovers.

While severe weather can sometimes leave people with little time to prepare, there are some things which people can do to try and reduce the risk to their pets and help wildlife.

From wiping off a horse after exercise to reduce the risk of chills and providing a tray of grass in your house for indoor rabbits, to some very simple things which wildlife lovers can do - these small steps could make a big difference.

Winter can also be challenging for birds, hedgehogs, squirrels. Every year between one and two thousand wild animals are brought into National RSPCA wildlife centres in December, January and February suffering from dehydration, hunger and cold. Last year, there were nearly 500 in December alone.

Making your garden wildlife-friendly; maintaining your garden pond and leaving out food and fresh, clean unfrozen water can make all the difference to how well wild animals survive the colder months.

If rabbits or guinea pigs are usually housed outdoors, it’s best to bring them indoors or into a unused garage or shed over winter, but they will still need free access to a secure exercise area.

Providing grass in trays will give rabbits/guinea pigs opportunities to graze if they are brought indoors or undercover, or if the grazing outdoors is poor. If keeping rabbits’ outside, their home should be placed in a sheltered position, facing away from the prevailing wind and rain.

In the case of cats, the National RSPCA suggests providing enough litter trays, filled with the cat's preferred litter, indoors at all times of year. During the winter the ground outside may freeze, and cats who usually toilet outdoors may be put off from doing so, so it is very important they have suitable toilet facilities indoors.

Dog owners should dress them and their dogs in reflective coats when out on night-time walkies, to help you both stay safe and seen.

RSPCA wildlife expert Nicola Cunningham said: “Sometimes it is the small things that can make all the difference.

“A little bit of extra food left out for a hungry robin or badger may be the help it needs to last through a spate of frosty weather, and just melting a small hole in your garden pond can make all the difference.

“We can all struggle when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and our wildlife friends are often the most vulnerable to the extremes the elements take. They just need a bit of a helping hand sometimes.”

Ways to help include:

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