How to prepare your pet for the colder months

Autumn is here and winter isn’t far behind it! Just as our routines can change with the seasons, we might find that our pets – whether you have a cat, dog, horse or small animal like a rabbit or hamster – need to have their day to day routine adjusted a bit too. This can ensure they stay happy and healthy in the colder months.

So if you’re thinking about the best ways to support your pet as the days get chillier, we’re here to help!

If you have a dog…

Dogs are often very active members of the household, so it’s important to get them winter ready – no matter how old they are.

Walks will still be on the agenda throughout the winter, but wind, rain and potentially snow and ice, can be potential hazards for your pooch. Wrap them up in a nice snug coat and be sure to have a towel ready to dry their fur, particularly their ears to prevent infection. Taking the time to dry your pet will also give you the opportunity to check their paws for snow, grit or dirt between their toes that might get trapped. 

Keep your dog away from patches of salt or grit on pavements as eating these substances can be dangerous – and irritate their delicate paws if they walk on them. Consider getting a hi vis lead, collar or coat to keep them as safe as possible on those dark mornings and nights.

If you find that your dog is a bit more sedentary, it’s worth adjusting their food. If you’re unsure, consult your vet as you want to be certain that you aren’t under or overfeeding them. Help keep them warm and cosy at home with thicker bedding, especially if they sleep in a separate area such as a kitchen or utility room where you might have wooden or tiled flooring. Small dogs with thin coats will really benefit from extra blankets or a more insulated winter bed. A chilly pooch is an unhappy pooch!

With all that warmth comes a need to stay hydrated. If your home is suddenly warm from central heating or a roaring fire, make sure your dog has plenty of fresh, cool water that they can easily access. 

If you have a cat…

Prevent them from developing frostbite and hypothermia in cold weather by encouraging your cat to spend more time indoors, particularly at night when temperatures can really drop. If your cat is an outdoor cat usually, provide them with toys and feeders to keep them busy, a warm and cosy place to sleep and a clean litter tray for them to use.

Make sure your cat is microchipped and your details are up to date so if they don’t come in one night and find warmth elsewhere and wanders too far, it’s much easier for you to be reunited. 

Older cats and cats with arthritis can find the winter weather particularly tough. You can help them feel comfortable by making sure their bed, toys, food and water are easy to access.

If it snows or ice is forecast, you can keep their paws healthy by checking them whenever they come inside after a trip outside. It’s best to keep them indoors if possible, but if your cat is curious then just gently wipe any residue from their paws and fur when they return. It’s also important to keep your cat safe from antifreeze, which is commonly used in the winter for defrosting cars. Unfortunately, even the smallest amount of antifreeze can be fatal so if you have it around the house, car or garage, ensure it’s stored safely and out of reach. 

If you have a horse…

Every horse will deal with the colder weather differently. This can depend on their breed and even their native environment as some will be adapted to suit harsher climates. Regardless of what breed your horse is, there are some simple steps you can take to keep them as comfortable as possible – despite being outside!

Consider things that you can invest in to minimise your horse’s exposure to the elements. It’s important to ensure that their shelter is waterproof, insulated and any repairs are addressed before the autumn and winter months. Otherwise, your horse can be vulnerable to the rain and wind, which will lead to an uncomfortable few months. Leaving your horse’s coat to grow out can also keep them warm naturally. 

It’s likely that your horse will need more calories in the winter months, so consider carefully increasing their food intake or speaking to your vet to discuss the best way to ensure they get the calories and nutrients they need. 

If you have a small pet…

Having a small pet, such as a rabbit or guinea pig, that lives outdoors year round means that you need to get them as winter ready as you would in your home! Winter for rabbits and guinea pigs means less than usual amounts of exercise, green foliage and maybe even interaction if you go outdoors less when it’s cold – so it’s important to see them every day so they stay social, you can monitor their food and water levels and to ensure they’re warm and healthy.

If you can, move your pet’s hutch to a dry and well ventilated area out of the way of the elements – ideally off the floor. A wet floor or wind through your pet’s hutch will cause discomfort and illness, so keeping them sheltered is one of the best things you can do to get them ready for winter. Provide extra bedding to keep them warm and keep on top of hutch cleaning too – this will be an opportunity to ensure there’s no water leaking into the hutch. Avoid giving your rabbit blankets as they are prone to chewing them, which can cause blockages. Instead, stick to newspaper, hay and straw.

If you have a shed that’s safe and secure, it’s worth considering housing your small pet in there over the winter months so they have extra space for exercise. Check the area before moving your pet in for hazards such as wires, hot radiators or gaps that they might escape through. You can help your rabbit or guinea pig get used to life indoors by creating a dark, cosy sleeping area and hiding spots that they can use if they feel overwhelmed. Spend as much time as possible with your little pet during the winter to make sure they’re well socialised and happy – even if it is cold outside!

Phil’s top tips:

  • Winter can be a tricky time for getting fresh air and exercise for many of us, but it’s important to make sure our indoor pets get outdoors as much as they like – it’s good for us and them!
  • It’s easy to overheat a house in an attempt to keep cosy, but remember that our pets have thick furry coats and might become too warm too quickly. Try to keep the heating at a comfortable temperature, always have fresh water available and ensure your pet is groomed regularly to remove excess hair. 
  • Consider investing in a hi vis collar for your dog or cat so they’re safer when they go out on walks or for a wander during the winter months, particularly as the dark mornings and evenings set in. This will ensure they’re visible to motorists and cyclists even on the most miserable of days!