As we head into the depths of winter with the cold British weather and darker days, it is important pet owners take some extra steps to help ensure their pets stay happy, healthy and safe throughout the season.
From preparing for long frosty walks to keeping small pets warm, Dr Karen Heskin, Head of Pets at Pets at Home, has shared her guidance on how to look after our pets in the colder weather:
Invest in a winter coat
Whilst it’s fine to walk your dog in colder conditions, smaller dogs and dogs with shorter hair will feel the cold more and will benefit from a dog coat to help protect them from the elements, including wind chill and rain.
Remember that although winter gear may help keep your pet warm, some dogs won’t appreciate a coat even on the coldest of days. Only put them in clothing if they are happy to wear it, and always make sure they are comfortable before you set off.
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your dog’s behaviour during the walk. If they look distressed, are unusually quiet or if they are shivering, it may be time to head home and get them warmed up and comfortable. Once home make sure you dry any damp or wet areas of their fur.
Take care of their paws
The salt and grit used on roads and pavements can not only irritate your pet’s paws and nose, but if the salt is licked off it can cause health issues. Always check your dog’s feet after a walk and rinse their paws to remove any snow, ice, or grit that has accumulated. There are also some great dog boots available that will help protect their paws from snow and road salt.
It’s also important to keep the hair between their toes trimmed, especially if it’s long, to help avoid any build up of ice, salt and grit. You can maintain this at home but there are also appointments available at a professional groomers such as The Groom Room for a thorough winter nail clip and paw tidy, which also includes a soothing balm application.
Stimulate your pet indoors
If the cold conditions are particularly bad, you may consider shortening their walk and replacing it with some indoor fun as a one off. There are lots of ways to entertain your pet at home such as interactive games and puzzles that stimulate them physically and mentally.
You could also try your hand at dog training, with lots of advice on shaking paws and rolling over available on Pet Talk.
Keep them warm and cosy indoors
Much like we appreciate getting cosy on the sofa on chilly evenings, your pet values a warm, comfy space to relax, especially when it is a little colder than usual.
Many cats love an igloo or radiator bed, while dogs might enjoy a cosy heated bed or a few extra blankets to snuggle into. If you use a radiator or heated bed check it regularly to ensure it’s not getting too hot or overheating.
Whichever style your pet prefers, wash their bedding regularly at 30⁰C to reduce the chance of fleas. These tricky parasites thrive once the heating goes on in the house.
Protect outdoor pets
Outdoor pets can be vulnerable to the cold and damp, so it’s best to try and bring rabbits, guinea pigs and their homes indoors when the outside temperature begins to drop. A well-ventilated shed, unused garage or a spacious conservatory could be ideal.
If that isn’t possible, raise their home off the ground to reduce damp, position it out of the wind and draughts and make sure it is well insulated. You can also use a thermal hutch cover to help protect it from the wintery conditions and clean, dry straw is great for your pet to make a cosy nest, so provide plenty during the winter months.
Remember that winter is a difficult time for birds too, as it’s harder for them to find food. Consider welcoming wild birds into your garden with a bird feeder and bird seed.
Watch out for antifreeze
Antifreeze is highly toxic to cats, dogs and other pets. Unfortunately, they love the smell & taste, and just tiny amounts can be fatal, so please make sure you keep it out of reach of all animals and mop up all spills straight away.
Stay visible in the dark
The shorter days winter brings means it’s likely you’ll be walking your dog in the dark – whether that’s in the morning or evening, or both. It’s important to invest in a reflective lead, collar or harness to make sure both you and your pet are safe and visible to other pedestrians and cars.
As well as reflective clothing, it’s also a good idea to choose items with LED lights which will help you in areas that don’t have a lot of lighting.
A range of leads at Pets at Home also include improved locking safety clips for added security and peace of mind. These have been designed to assist with unlocking in low light conditions – perfect for dark winter walks.
Log onto www.petsathome.com to find your nearest store and for further information.