Beat the winter blues - protect your pet from the elements
It's officially winter, so it's important to make sure our pets are safe from the elements.
We have some valuable tips on how to help your animals stay warm, happy and healthy during the winter months.
A cosy bed is a must to ensure your pet has somewhere warm to curl up during the cold months. Cats in particular will love the security of an igloo, which is an enclosed pet bed. Your pet will benefit from another blanket or a snuggly plush bed for extra warmth over winter – and don’t forget extra straw for your small animals.
Winter coats or jumpers are a good option to keep your dog warm – just ensure the coat is well fitted. You can find some neat options at pet stores, or you can even make your pet a cosy jumper yourself. Simply search ‘DIY dog jumper’ on Google. Remember that not all dogs like to wear coats, so always ensure they are comfortable and happy with their winter attire.
Horses can also benefit from a winter coat. A waterproof blanket or rug is a good way to reduce the effects of cold weather and keep your horse warm and dry. Remember to check your horses’ blankets daily to make sure they are fitted correctly. Avoid over-blanketing too – horses can still overheat in cold weather if they have too many layers on.
Heat pads are another great way to keep your pets warm over winter. They are especially beneficial for the elderly, the young and unwell pets. Make sure to get one that is safe for animals and working properly. To avoid accidents or your animal overheating, never leave electric pads on when you are not there, and always make sure that your animal can move away from the heat pad if they want to.
Don't leave animals out in the cold
Adequate shelter is necessary year round, but it is extremely important when it’s rainy or frosty weather. What makes for a good shelter in the summer months might not be enough to protect your pet from the elements in winter.
If your pets live indoors, make sure that they have a warm area to sleep that is elevated from the cold floor and away from any draughts. If your pet lives outdoors, it’s essential that they have shelter that is well insulated, warm, waterproof and windproof. Raising the shelter off the ground will prevent moisture getting inside and keep it much warmer. Large animals, such as horses, cattle or sheep, should have a three-sided shelter that is easily accessed from their paddocks.
If you have backyard poultry, remember the same rules apply: warm, dry shelter with fresh dry bedding is essential. When possible, we recommend bringing pets inside during cold nights, or anytime there is a cold snap.
During a storm, bring your pets inside
If the weather is severe, we recommend bringing your pets inside to safety. This will protect them from risks such as falling debris, high winds, heavy rain and even more serious dangers such as fallen power lines and lightning strikes. This includes small animals – they may seem happy in their hutch outside, but it’s best to bring them inside where it is safe. Set up a quiet area for them with everything they need such as a litter tray, bedding, and food and water.
For any large animals, ensure they have secure shelter with plenty of access to food and water away from the wind and rain. Keep checking on them when possible. Try and stay calm during a storm, as your pets may become agitated if they notice that you are nervous. Reward calm behaviour with small treats. Stay close to your pets until the bad weather passes.
Exercising in winter
Although it can be hard to motivate yourself in the cold dark days, it’s important to continue taking your dog for daily walks. Dogs will hate being cooped up all season, and giving them the chance to run and play is really important. In fact, winter is a great time to explore local beaches that are offlimits to dogs during the summer. Many beaches around the country allow dogs to run off-leash during the winter. Just make sure that you have towels to dry your dog off and a cosy place where they can warm up afterwards.
Similarly, it is important to keep exercising your horse during the winter months. However, keep in mind that a sweaty horse can quickly become chilled by losing body heat too easily – it’s best to exercise your horse in the morning, when the day is heating up, and make sure that they are dry and warm afterwards.
Cats will be less likely to venture outside in the colder months, so providing them with physical and mental stimulation indoors is also important. You can do this by playing with them with wand toys, balls to chase, or giving them levels around the house to jump up on.
Rabbits and other small animals will also need a dry, safe and warm area to run around.
If it’s too wet for your pets to play outside, there are plenty of ways you can keep them entertained indoors!
Food enrichment such as puzzle feeders are a great way to keep your pooch entertained. Wobblers and puzzle toys are designed to encourage the dog to work for their food using their paws or snout to move the object to reveal the food from the inside. It’s a good idea to fill puzzle toys up with dry kibble – don’t use wet food as it won’t come out of the puzzle toy, can frustrate the dog, and can be extremely hard to clean out thoroughly.
Food-dispensing toys, such as rubber Kongs, are another great food enrichment option. They can be found at pet stores, and filled with various dog-friendly foods such as kibble and wet food, or peanut butter. They will provide hours of entertainment for your four-legged friend. Have a few different food enrichment toys and swap out with each meal to keep your dog interested and enthusiastic. Just make sure that you use food that is appropriate if your dog has any special dietary needs; if in doubt, check with your veterinarian.
Puzzle feeders can be used to feed cats too. You can also play with your cat indoors to help them use up some of their energy. Many cats enjoy interactive toys such as wand toys, stuffed mice, balls to chase or feathers.
Similarly, bunnies and other small animals love playing with toys. They love to investigate, push, pull and play with toys. Swap toys regularly to keep them interested. Here are some toy ideas:
- Fill toilet paper rolls with hay and treats
- Hide a slice of fruit or vegetables in a treat ball
- Hard plastic baby toys make great enrichment items for rabbits to throw around
- Untreated wicker baskets, wooden ‘fiddlesticks’, cartons and untreated fruit-tree limbs make great shredding fun and are also important for wearing down teeth
- Telephone books, boxes, cat tunnels and blocks of untreated wood are excellent for stretching, climbing or sitting.
Remember to let them destroy these toys if they want to – that is part of the fun!
Get your pet disaster kit ready
As we’ve already experienced this year, extreme weather events and power outages aren’t uncommon in New Zealand, so it’s also important to be prepared.
Get a pet survival kit together now – this will ensure you and your pet are prepared in an emergency. The kit should include:
- Carry boxes/cages or lead/rope, for transporting your pet (as appropriate for your specific pet)
- Vaccination, veterinary records, registration records, microchip details and photographs of your animals (ideally have this information saved online as well)
- A blanket/bedding
- Bottled water
- Food and water bowls
- Some food and treats
- Plastic bags/doggie bags/gloves
- Collar and large name tag (the information on the tag should include the animal’s name, and owner’s address and telephone number)
- Any medicines your animal needs
- A first-aid kit for animals and a basic animal first-aid book
- A list of pet-friendly safe houses (friends/family) or safe shelters (kennels, catteries, pet-friendly hotels).
Helping your arthritic pet
Older animals tend to find the cold weather over winter a bit of a challenge, especially those with arthritis. Remember to take extra care to ensure that your pet is kept warm and dry, especially when it is cold.
Arthritic animals will be more comfortable if they have a bed (or more than one!) that has plenty of padding for sore joints and that will also keep them warm. This should be away from any draughts and off the floor, but not so high that it is difficult to get to. It’s also important to take care when exercising your pet. Arthritic and elderly animals may have more difficulty walking on slippery surfaces, such as wet ground, snow or ice. They may be more prone to slipping and falling.Take care when walking your pet – go slowly and avoid slippery areas.
If you suspect arthritis, you should take your pet for a check-up with your veterinarian. There are many treatment and management options for arthritis that can help your pet feel more comfortable and be more active well into old age. With your veterinarian’s help, there is a lot you can do to improve your arthritic pet’s quality of life.