While it’s easy for us to put on another jersey or crank up the heat if we get cold, our pets’ options are more limited. It’s up to us to ensure that they stay comfortable and warm during the long, cold winters, especially if they happen to live outside. Here are some tips to keep your dogs, cats and even your rabbits warm in winter.
- Dog jerseys, coats and fleeces are not all about fashion as you might believe from Paris Hilton’s example. They can be invaluable in keeping your dog warm at night and when out on walks. Get a reflective coat if you’re going to be walking in the dark of the morning or evening. Most dogs tolerate full jerseys (the warmth makes up for any initial discomfort), but if yours really doesn’t like them at all, you can try a coat that covers the back and chest with strapping under the belly. You can also get rain coats and hats for really miserable weather and booties to protect their feet from snow, ice and salt. You will have to introduce the booties slowly though, so your dog can get used to them.
- Check the paw pads for build-ups of ice and snow, as well as cracks and cuts. If they are cracked, put on some petroleum jelly.
- Rethink the walks – but make alternative plans. When the temperature is low and the wind-chill factor is high, it’s likely that your dog doesn’t want to go out just as much as you (unless you have a malamute or Labrador), so stay indoors and have fun with your dog in other ways. You can play mentally challenging games (food puzzles and treasure hunts) and catch up on your training. Tug of war and hide and seek are also great indoor games to play. If your dog is bouncing off the walls, however, you can have some fast, blood-pumping games outside and even go out for short walks.
- Provide extra food as dogs burn up more calories to stay warm.
- Give them a heat pad or heated beanbag at night to keep warm. Just tuck it under the blankets for cosiness.
- Just as you wouldn’t leave your dog in a hot car in summer, don’t leave her in a cold car in winter. Hypothermia is just as dangerous – and quick – as heat stroke.
How to keep cats warm in winter
- Add extra litter trays in winter because your kitty might not want to eliminate outside at all.
- Provide extra food, especially protein, as cats burn up more calories to stay warm. Add more essential fatty acids to aid coat growth, such as fish oils, canola oil, soybean oil and coconut oil.
- Cats appreciate a heated beanbag or heat pad in their beds when they go to sleep.
- Create a cosy sleeping place somewhere that catches morning or afternoon sun. Your cat will appreciate the opportunity to laze in the rays.
How to keep rabbits warm in winter
- If you have outdoor rabbits, bring them inside during the height of winter, especially if there is frost and snow.
- Provide extra food as rabbits burn up more calories to stay warm.
- Rabbits might like an extra source of warmth, such as a small heated beanbag in the corner of their space (whether that’s a hutch, cage or your lounge). Make it as rabbit chew-proof as possible.
- Keep beds out of any draughts.
- If they’re in a hutch, check it for draughts, leaks and insulate it against the cold. Line it with extra newspaper and hay so they can burrow properly and provide some blankets for extra warmth. If the front is exposed through mesh, cover it up with clear plastic or Perspex to keep the cold out – but don’t forget to add breathing holes. Clean the floor often, as urine can freeze in very cold weather and check that their water hasn’t frozen too.
- Cover the top of hutches and cages with a blanket during very cold days and at night.
If you’ve got a roaring fire, ensure that you have a fireguard so that your pets don’t get dangerously close.
No matter what type of pet you have, if they usually live outside you should seriously consider allowing them inside during winter. Winters can be bitterly cold and it’s not fair to expect pets to stay outside during the harshest weather. They may have fur coats but they still suffer.
If you absolutely have to keep your pets outside, ensure that they have weatherproof shelter and protection. A solid kennel with a sloped roof, insulation, blankets and even a heater is the least you can do. If your dog lives in the garage or shed, make sure it’s also well insulated and that the bed is big, well-padded and at least three inches off the floor so that the cold doesn’t seep through. Also have enough blankets to make it cosy and consider placing a heat pad under the blankets to keep them warm throughout the night.