Written by Samantha Wilson, May 19th, 2016
Winter in some parts of Australia can be harsh, and it is important to remember that our pets need special attention during these long, cold months.
In the colder months, pets’ diets need to increase in energy intake rather than fat content. Animals shouldn’t gain weight over winter; they should just maintain body condition. As your pet is burning more energy in winter to keep warm, it is important to make sure they have plenty of water. As food intake varies for different pets and breeds, it is best to refer to your local Pet Expert for specific feeding requirements.
As we all know, the last thing we want to do in winter is go out and face those cold, harsh conditions. Although it is much more comfortable to curl up under a blanket, our dogs need to be exercised regularly for their physical and mental health. So put on a nice warm coat and head outside; your dog’s wellbeing will thank you for it.
One of the most important things for a pet that is kept outside in winter is to ensure they have a warm place to sleep at night. Dogs and cats that are lean, have short coats or do not have a double coat need an extra layer of protection from the elements, such as wind and rain. They need insulated kennels, blankets, and raised beds that keep them off the cold ground. An insulated kennel is best for all outside pets, and make sure the opening of the kennel is not facing the wind.
*COLD TIP: Attach a dog or cat door to the opening of the kennel. That way the kennel opening can be closed off so the cold isn’t constantly flowing in, but your pet can still push through the flap to get in or out.*
Rabbits cope well living outside in the colder months, provided they have a warm shelter to go to. The shelter must be well insulated, water proof, and raised off the ground to encourage the air to circulate and stop the bottom becoming damp. Heat mats are also a great addition to their hutch that will keep it toasty and warm.
Guinea pigs should not be housed outside during the extremes of winter, as their survival rate dramatically decreases when the temperature drops below 17C. They are very susceptible to temperature changes, so a mild 22C winter’s day that drops to 7C overnight can lead to an Upper Respiratory Infection that could become fatal if not treated.
It is during winter that your pet’s coat must be at its best, as this is when they need the insulation. Shorthaired breeds have short coats that do not insulate as well therefore they will need the extra protection of a coat. Long coat breeds are able to self insulate, however owners must make sure that their coat does not have any mats or debris, as this will interrupt the insulation effect. Pets still need to be washed in winter, however not as regularly. Make sure it is done on a relatively warm day, and that they are towel or blow dried thoroughly before being exposed to the elements. It is also important to check your pet’s paws after a walk, because the cold, wet ground can cause cracks or redness between the toes.
During winter, animals are more susceptible to health concerns because their immune systems are lower due to exposure to stress from the cold. Regular physical examinations from a Pet Expert or Vet are advised in winter to make sure your pet is coping. Illnesses such as Frostbite and Hypothermia are common during winter months, and can be fatal if not treated. Look out for signs of these illnesses, such as firm, waxy skin and blisters.
Arthritis is a very common illness that can flare up in colder months, often caused by injury, obesity, or genetics. 1 in 5 dogs suffer from the pain and disability caused by arthritis, and it is more common in outdoor dogs. This is a very debilitating disease that will dampen your dog’s quality of life if not treated, so it is important to be aware.
Checking for arthritis:
It is important to ask your Pet Expert to check for the signs of arthritis, such as soreness or restriction in the limbs, clicking or crunching sounds when moving the limbs, or behavioural abnormalities. If your pet is showing these signs, you will be referred to a vet where treatments will be discussed.
CARS = WINTER DANGER
One of the largest pet dangers in winter is actually our car. Firstly, the chemical Antifreeze which can leak from your cars radiator, tastes delicious to animals, however it is deadly if consumed. If you see your animal acting drunk or convulsing, take them to a vet immediately.
Secondly, a very inviting spot for your cat to curl up and sleep in is underneath or inside of your car’s bonnet. There have been many cases where a cat is inside the car’s motor and the car is started, leading to tragedy. For this reason we suggest keeping animals away from garages at winter, and be careful of chemical spills if you take them for a walk and see them sniffing around a neighbour’s driveway.
REMEMBER if it is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your pet!