COLUMN: How to help animals in winter weather

Now that we've had the first bit of snowfall, we guess that you could say winter has officially started.

For the RSPCA, winter brings a whole load of different challenges as the cold months can be a challenge for wildlife.

Birds in particular find it more difficult to find food during the winter months, so we always encourage people to leave out extra food for them.

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You can also help our feathered friends by keeping bird baths free of ice, leaving out bowls of clean water and keep any feeders and water bowls clean.

If you have a pond, check it every day for ice as toxic gases can build up if it freezes over, and may kill fish or frogs hibernating at the bottom. If the pond does freeze over, carefully place a saucepan of hot water on the surface to melt a hole. Never tip boiling water onto it or break the ice with force, as this can harm fish.

Badgers don’t hibernate, but they do sleep through most of the severe weather, and have a tough time finding their favourite food of earthworms when the ground is frozen. Nibbles such as lightly cooked meats, cheese, peanuts and fruit would be welcomed. Foxes also need our support during these tough winter days, but it is important to keep your distance as it is important for them to remain wild.

We also advise keeping an extra close eye on pets who live outside, such as rabbits and guinea pigs. When temperatures reach freezing, you may wish to consider moving your rabbit hutch inside or into an outhouse, shed or unused garage.

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We recommend that guinea pigs are housed indoors when temperatures are below 15 degrees Celsius.

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And finally, winter is a time when many wildlife hibernate, so make sure you check carefully any wood or leaf piles for wild animals such as hedgehogs, frogs and mice before lighting any fires or bonfires. If you find wild animals in hibernation, be sure to leave them be.

Remember, if you see an animal outside in the cold that looks like it is suffering, take a note of the location, the time and date and call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.

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