Brrr…it’s getting colder outside!

As the nights draw in and we head inevitably towards the winter months, it’s time to pull out the woolly jumpers and put the heating on! But it’s not just humans who feel the cold; there are a number of things you can do to ensure your pet stays warm, dry and happy too until spring appears.

Keeping the small furries cosy

Even if they live outside, small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets feel the cold and appreciate extra care through the winter months. There are a few easy steps you can take to ensure they remain snug as a bug:

  • Give them shelter. Keep their hutch in a sheltered part of the garden out of draughts, rain and snow. You could add a bit of extra warmth by putting an old blanket/ duvet or tarpaulin over the top too – just make sure there is still good ventilation.

  • If temperatures really drop, bring them inside for the worst of the weather. This could be a porch or conservatory; somewhere that won’t get too hot. If there’s no room indoors, a shed or car-free garage could work well too (remember that car fumes could be fatal).

  • Use extra bedding to help keep them cosy – but be sure to change it regularly to help keep their hutch fresh.

  • Stop water bottles freezing by wrapping them in an old sock or bubble wrap

  • Ensure your pet gets enough exercise – even in cold weather – by giving them regular access to an outdoor run and plenty of natural light.

  • ‘Snugglesafe’ heat pads are an excellent way to keep your pet warm. They are heated in the microwave and provide safe, long-lasting warmth.

Winter care for your dog.

Long dark nights and cold winter rain does not often make for very pleasant walking experiences! However, inclement weather is unlikely to dampen your dog’s enthusiasm for the great outdoors and as we all know, exercise is crucial for their physical and mental wellbeing. So here are a handful of tips to help soften the blow of winter walking:

  • Safety first – be sure to be seen if walking in the dark by wearing reflective clothing. Your dog could join in too with a reflective lead, collar, harness or if appropriate, a coat. 

  • Dry your dog with a towel if you’ve been out on rainy / snowy walks

  • Check your dog’s paws on frosty / snowy days. Clumps of snow or ice balls can form between the pads and toes of some hairy-toed dogs so be sure to check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes. These are best thawed out gently with cool water rather than pulling / brushing them out.

  • Similarly, the grit used to melt snow and ice on pavements is very toxic to dogs. If they walk on it they can suffer burns to their skin, and it is equally poisonous if it is ingested by licking paws clean. Be vigilant in icy weather – ensure your dog does not try to eat any grit off the floor and if you have to walk on gritted surfaces, wipe your dog’s paws afterwards and check for any irritation.

Does my dog need a coat? 

Jackets can be a staple item of clothing during the winter months for some breeds with thin fur or those that feel the cold more readily. If you think your dog would benefit from some extra coverage, take the following into account:

  • Measure your dog to ensure your purchase is a good, comfortable fit.

  • Choose a practical option – something wind & rain-proof that is easily washable and maybe even reflective is a good choice!

  • Check your dog can move freely and watch for signs that they might not be comfortable, such as biting and scratching at the jacket. Make sure it doesn’t rub their neck or around their legs, and that it doesn’t get in the way when they go to the toilet.

Rainy day games for dogs

Some days the weather really is too awful for walkies, if that’s the case there are some fun activities you can do at home with your dog without having to get your feet wet!

  • Ditch the bowl! Food games can be really exciting for your dog and there are loads of ways you can make dinner time more stimulating. Puzzle feeders, hide and seek games and snuffle mats will all make your dog have to use their brain and their nose to get their dinner rather than just gobbling it all up at once. 

  • Hiding their favourite toys or some low fat treats in a cardboard box filled with scrunched up newspaper fulfills their love of digging without getting muddy.

  • Make your own puzzle toy using an old muffin tin, some tiny treats and tennis balls. Dot a few treats into some of the muffin holes and place a tennis ball over each hole. Watch as your dog hunts through the tennis balls to find the tasty morsels.

Keeping kitty fit

Plenty of wet and cold weather may discourage your feline friend from venturing outside too often. If your cat is still spending lots of time outside, be sure to provide a warm, dry place of shelter during the colder months. And if they aren’t, it’s important to encourage them to continue to exercise using cat-friendly toys to ensure they don’t gain too much weight and become bored. The good news is, most cats love to play games, especially with:

  • Things they can hit. Cats enjoy batting things that move easily across the floor, such as a ball of paper 

  • Things they can chase, such as a wind-up toy, or even a piece of string dragged across the floor!

  • Things they can jump onto and climb into. Cats love to be up high so making sure there are safe surfaces and space they can jump on and off to help burn extra calories. They will also have hours of fun with an empty box or a cardboard tube doubling up as a tunnel.

  • Things they can scratch. Scratching keeps a cat’s claws sharp, and tones their shoulder and back muscles. A scratching-post or pad will meet this need – and should save your furniture!