Just like us, the colder months can be a challenge the health and well-being of our pets. Most animals will bound through the chillier months in full health, but we need to be mindful that changes in temperatures and shorter days can have a real impact on the health and happiness of some of our family pets, especially the smaller or more frail ones.
If you have rabbits, guinea pigs or ferrets that are kept outside in the garden, make sure you keep a close eye on them during the colder months. It is important to ensure that you are providing enough bedding for warmth and that they are in a secure and waterproof environment.
- Your pets will need a warm bed, so provide extra bedding and a thicker layer of the litter you usually use for the floor. Newspaper can be used to line the floors underneath the bedding Check that your hutch/enclosure is in a good state and properly waterproofed. If possible raise hutches up off the floor to prevent the base becoming damp and to keep your pets warm.
- Large mesh doors can be partially covered with clear perspex, which will allow your pet to see out and the sun to come in but will provide a barrier against the wind and rain – ventilation is very important though, so leave several inches gap at the top for this. Covering the whole hutch with a specially designed cover or with a blanket, piece of carpet and a waterproof covering, will help keep the heat in and the weather out. Make sure that you leave the front open to ventilate during the day and at night cover the majority of the hutch leaving a small area open for ventilation. If it gets really cold, move the hutch into a shed or unused garage. (Never place a hutch in the same garage you store a vehicle in).
- Staying warm in the winter can use up more energy and so pets spending a lot of time outside, may be burning more calories to generate body heat. It may be necessary to increase their calorie intake to account for the cold but please speak to a member of our nursing team for more advice on the correct amount to feed your pet.
- It is vital to ensure that your pet has access to fresh clean water and that water in bowls and bottles hasn’t frozen over night.
- Exercise is also important for pets housed outside. Encourage mobility and play with toys they can push around and tubes they can run through. It may be necessary to let them exercise indoors if it is too cold outside or if there is a frost or snow on the ground. Damp grass will also cause your pet to become cold very quickly.
Rodents, Birds, Reptiles and Fish
Make sure that any small mammals and birds are kept in a draft-free environment.
- It is important to check that indoor pets don’t get too warm when you turn up your central heating. Take special care with pets like chinchillas that prefer cooler temperatures.
- If you keep tropical fish or reptiles check their tank temperature daily as it may fluctuate with changes in household temperatures.
- If you have a hibernating pet, make sure that you get the proper advice about maintaining their environment during hibernation.
- If you have fish in a pond make sure to break any ice that forms over the top to allow air to circulate and prevent toxins building up.
Advice For Cat Owners
Many cats will be more inclined to stay inside during cold and wet weather, but exercise and mental stimulation are still very important.
- Encourage play and exercise using cat toys or home made toys like string and ping-pong balls. Activity can also be encourage using scratching posts, cat towers, climbing frames, or even just a few cardboard boxes with cat-sized holes cut out for hide and seek games.
- Make sure that your cat has access to a nice warm resting place during the cold months. This is especially important for older and/or arthritic cats.
- If your cat does venture outside, it is worth considering a reflective collar so he or she can be seen more easily (make sure it has a quick release function for safety).
- If you don’t have a cat flap for your cat, put a cosy bed in your shed and leave the shed door or window open for them to access it.
- At this time of year our vets usually see an increase of cystitis and urinary tract problem cases in our feline patients because they don’t want to go outside in the bad weather for a wee! Make sure that your cat has access to a litter tray if you notice that he or she is not going outside very much.
Advice For Dog Owners
Dogs are creatures of habit and routine, so most will still expect their daily walks even in the most miserable winter weather. Dogs will feel the cold, just like we do so it is important to keep them warm whilst out and about;
- Make sure you do at least 10 minutes of on-lead walking before letting your dog off the lead. This will ensure their muscles are properly warmed up before they start racing about after balls or other dogs.
- Playing activity games such as tug of war and fetch will help your dog stay warmer.
- Going for walks in a local wood will help keep you both warmer because the trees will shelter you from the worst of the weather.
- If your dog gets wet on the walk make sure they are properly dried off with a towel, either before you put them back into the car if you have driven to your destination, or as soon as you get home if you have walked. This is especially important with older dogs and dogs with long or thick coats.
- If you have been for a walk in the snow check your dog’s feet when you get home and remove any balls of ice stuck in the hair between their foot pads. If your dog has any grit or salt from the roads in his paws or coat, make sure you wash this out too as it can cause irritation.
- Miniature breeds, smooth-coated breeds and elderly dogs will all feel the cold more than others, so it may be worth investing in a doggy coat or jumper to keep them warmer on their walks. It is important to remove doggy coats and jumpers once they are back inside to prevent your dog from overheating.
- When dog walking in the evenings, make sure that both you and your dog are visible to others. We recommend a reflective and/or flashing collar, tag or lead for your dog so that he or she can be seen easily in the dark.
- If you are unable to take your dog out due to bad weather, you can prevent boredom by stimulating their minds and keeping them active. Play hide and seek games with favourite toys and try food puzzles and activity balls to keep them alert and provide interest while stuck indoors.
Please contact the Castle Vets team if you have any questions or any concerns about your pet, we would also love to know if you have any great ideas for cold weather pet care.