SPCA New Zealand

How to keep your pet happy and healthy this winter

28 June 2022
How to keep your pet happy and healthy this winter

Are you and your pet prepared for the cold winter ahead? With chilly weather and colder temperatures here, it’s important to make sure your pets stay happy and healthy during winter. We’ve put together some useful tips for pet owners - read on to find out more.

Rain, rain, go away

When it’s too wet to play outside, make sure you have some great indoor activities to keep your pet happy and stimulated. Indoor enrichment is very important for your pet’s physical and mental health during the winter months, when outdoor play is limited. Here are a few ways you can keep them entertained indoors.

Food enrichment

Puzzle feeders are great for cats, dogs and even other pets, such as guinea pigs and rabbits. There are many food-dispensing toys and puzzle feeders on the market but you can also make these yourself.

Puzzle feeders encourage your pet to work for their food using their mouth or paws to move objects around to reveal hidden food! This will also help your pet to use up energy and keep warm by staying active. Food-dispensing toys will provide hours of entertainment for your furry friend! Have a few different food enrichment toys and swap out with each meal to keep your pet interested and enthusiastic.

It's been found that many animals have been found to prefer to work for food, even if the same food is available 'for free'. Of course, some individuals are more motivated than others, so it may take some trial and error to make sure it is difficult enough to provide a challenge, but not so difficult your pet gives up.

During the winter, your pet will burn extra calories to stay warm, feeding them a little more during this time will help. Just carefully monitor that they don’t put on weight.

Sensory Enrichment

This can involve one or more of the five senses; smell, touch, taste, see or hear and keeps your pet physically and mentally active. Play hide and seek with your dog so that they have to rely on their sense of smell to find you, a toy or hidden food. Buy or make a scratching post and climbing shelves to replace trees for your cat to climb and scratch all over.

Lavender, chamomile, coconut, and ginger essential oils applied to cloths and presented to dogs can decrease barking and increase resting behaviour. Playing calming music or audio books may also help relax pets when indoors. Whatever enrichment you provide, make sure to switch these around frequently to give things interesting for your pet.

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. Toys can be made at home and varied to keep your pet interested.

Some easy DIY toys for your smaller animals can include:

  • 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 your bunnies’ teeth.
  • Telephone books, boxes, cat tunnels and blocks of untreated wood are excellent for stretching, climbing or sitting.

Don't leave animals out in the cold

Despite your pet’s fur coat, they aren’t equipped to be out in the freezing winter temperatures for prolonged periods.

Adequate shelter is necessary year-round, but it is especially important when it’s rainy or frosty weather. If your pet lives indoors, make sure 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 they have shelter that is well insulated, warm, waterproof and windproof. Large animals, such as cattle or sheep, should have a three-sided shelter that is easily accessed from their paddocks, preferably with a dry bedding area of straw or wood shavings to keep themselves warm.

In severe weather or storms, please bring your pets inside for their safety.

During the colder nights, your indoor pet will need an extra snug place they can curl up and stay warm. Your pet may benefit from another cosy blanket or plush bed. Cats in particular love the security of an igloo, where they can hide and sleep in peace. Don’t forget the small animals who will need an extra layer of straw too!

Some animals, such as horses,may benefit from a waterproof, warm specialized coat as they are more exposed to the elements.

Alternative heating: Heat pads are a great way to keep your pet warm over the winter months and help them stay snug. A heating pad to sleep on may beespecially beneficial for your elderly or unwell pets. Pets who suffer from conditions such as arthritis will benefit from the heat and soothing effect on their bones. Make sure you get one that is safe for pets to use and use a safe temperature. When using an electrical heating option, make sure you are always present in order to avoid accidents or overheating and never leave it on overnight. Have the option for your pet to move away from the heat pad if they want to!

Keep an eye out for any behaviour changes that you might otherwise put down to it being winter; if your cat is sleeping noticeably longer seek veterinary advice. They may be unwell or struggling to keep warm.

Even during the winter months, your pet should never be left alone in the car as it can get very cold and even cause your animal to freeze to death inside.

Remember – if it is too cold for you outside, then it’s too cold for your pet!

Keeping your pet safe when exercising

Exercise is vital for your pet’s mental and physical wellness and just because it’s cold and wet outside, your exercise routine shouldn't stop!

Even if it’s wet outside dogs still need to be walked for at least an hour every day to keep them at a healthy weight and keep their mind active. So wrap up warm and get out there! Similarly, it’s important to keep exercising your horse during the cold winter months. Make sure when your pet comes in from the rain that you help them to dry off. It is not good for their health to lie around with wet fur. (It also won't help your house to smell very pleasant!).

Cats will be less likely to venture outside in the colder months, so providing them with physical and mental stimulation indoors is important. Rabbits and other small animals will also need a dry, safe and warm area to run around.

If you have to shorten the time of your walk due to severe weather, then make sure to play a few games inside as well, such as hide and seek or puzzle toys.

Shorter days and bad weather can be tempting for pet owners to cut back on exercise but winter is the ideal time for you and your dog to take advantage of the freedom of a deserted beach. One of the best forms of exercise for dogs is swimming, as it builds muscle tone without putting stress on the joints. Just be ready to thoroughly dry your dog’s coat off and bring them indoors to get warm afterwards.

During those darker winter days, you and your pet can be hard to see. When you are out walking your dog, reflective collars, leashes or tags are all great ways to help motorists see you well and truly before passing you.

TLC for older pets in winter

Pay special attention to your older pets as they can find the cold weather over winter a bit of a challenge, especially those with arthritis. They may find it difficult to walk on wet surfaces and will be more prone to slipping or falling. Go slowly when walking them outside and avoid any slippery areas.

As our pets age, they become less resilient to the cold weather meaning you need to make a few adjustments to help them get through the winter months with ease.

Do not be fooled - all species of animals can be affected by arthritis; however, dogs tend to show the more obvious clinical signs. Cats on the other hand can hide their signs of arthritis and pain, so be aware of any changes in behaviour during the colder months. If your pet suffers from arthritis, discuss with your vet changes that you can make to help your pet be more comfortable. General adjustments that will help your older pets in winter include:

  • A raised bed with padding – out of the way of draughts, in a warm area.
  • Maintaining an ideal body weight (excess weight will make things harder and more painful for your pet)
  • Maintain a sensible exercise level – arthritic joints benefit from being kept mobile, however hard exercise can cause inflammation and increase pain.Walks may need to be shorter and more frequent to allow dogs to meet their exercise.
  • For older dogs, especially large ones, there are plenty of innovative bedding options to help ease their pains. Along with a warm, soft and supportive bed, a good diet and supplements to improve symptoms of arthritis are invaluable.
  • For older rabbits or guinea pigs, ensure their bedding is swapped out regularly as wet bedding can easily freeze on cold nights.

While most animals are very well adapted to handle cold weather, ensuring that they have adequate water, appropriate feed amounts and some shelter from wind, cold rains or wet snow will ensure that your animals handle winter conditions with no ill effects. Keep in mind that very young, sick or very old animals may require even more attention to their special needs.

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