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The A to Z of getting through winter

The A to Z of getting through winter shutterstock 565624951

Our handy guide will help you keep your pets warm and safe

Antifreeze, Beds and beddingBirds, Consider fire safetyDry skin, Exercise for dogsFoodFrostbite, Grooming routine, Hamsters, HeatersHypothermia, Inoculations, Jerseys, Kennels, Light collarsMedicationNeighbourhood catsObserve your petPaw padsPower outagesRabbitsSenior pets,Toys and towers for catsVet visitWaterZap ticks and fleas

Winter is here. For us humans, nothing beats a cup of hot chocolate and a good book while snuggled up in front of a roaring fire or under a warm duvet. Our pets are also susceptible to changes in temperature and like to feel comfortable. Modern dog breeds have been selectively bred over centuries and are not equipped to handle the cold like their wolf ancestors once were. Even those cats who rarely spend time indoors during the summer will venture inside to find a warm spot for a nap.


Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is lethal to animals. Even small amounts can be deadly. When adding antifreeze to your radiator, take extra care. Your pet may lick up a spill or even walk through a puddle and lick his paws. If you suspect antifreeze poisoning, don’t wait. Seek medical attention immediately.

Beds and Bedding

If you have tiles in your home, place a thick carpet under your pet’s bed or basket, as tiles or slate can be very cold. Check for draughts from windows and block a door gap with a thick towel or fit a weather strip. Add a few extra blankets or a duvet to your dog’s bed. A safe microwave bean bag can add extra warmth on a very cold night. Wash bedding regularly on a hot cycle in the machine.


Keep birds indoors on very cold days. The room should be comfortable. Only run a heater if you are home and can monitor humidity levels. Dry air isn’t healthy for your bird and could cause dry eyes and irritated skin and sinuses. Run a humidifier or place a bowl of water near the heat source. If your bird enjoys a bath, provide some warm water for him to take a dip. If your bird spends time out of his cage, make sure heaters are turned off. Clean the humidifier weekly.

Consider fire safety

Put safety first. Don’t run a heater or heated pet bed or electric blankets while you are not at home, as an electrical shortage may cause a fire. If you do not have a smoke detector in your home, consider installing one now. Never leave candles unattended around pets. Open fireplaces must have a safety screen.

Dry skin

Daily brushing can stimulate the skin’s natural oils to combat dryness, which is common in winter and may lead to excessive scratching. If your pet develops a rash, his skin seems very dry or he scratches uncontrollably, visit your vet for a check-up.

Exercise for dogs

Don’t neglect your dog’s daily walks during winter, but consider your dog’s individual needs according to his breed and coat type. You may need to change your routine from an early morning or late evening walk to one earlier in the afternoon. A Husky or St Bernard will cope with a drop in temperature, but short-coated or smaller breeds like a Dobermann or Yorkie are likely to feel the cold. Also consider your dog’s paws on a cold, hard surface. Use dog booties to protect paw pads. If the weather is really bad, have an indoor play session with interactive toys.


Check your dog’s weight at the start of winter. Dogs of a healthy weight may lose weight during winter,

The A to Z of getting through winter shutterstock 325231847as the body burns extra kilojoules to stay warm. You can increase your pet’s food intake by 5 to 10% at the start of winter. Monitor your dog’s weight over the next month to make sure he isn’t

gaining too much. If your dog is overweight at the beginning of winter, speak to your vet about an appropriate winter diet.


Frostbite of ear tips and tail tips isn’t common in our temperate winter climate. However, if you do live in an area that experiences very cold winters and you notice swelling, blistering or skin discolouration in these areas, see your vet immediately.

Grooming routine

Only bath your dog when required. The water should be warm and comfortable. Place cotton wool in his ears to keep water out of the canals. Dry your dog off as quickly as possible. If you use a hairdryer, don’t use it on the hottest setting, as it may burn your pet. Clean around the eyes with a cotton ball dipped in saline solution. Stop a thick winter coat from matting by giving your pet a daily brush.


Add plenty of extra bedding during winter and give your hamster a smaller house inside the cage. Position the cage away from windows and doors and out of a draughty area. The room should be warm and comfortable, but not too hot.


Never leave pets unattended around a heater, as these can easily be knocked over by a rowdy pet or whippy tail.


Young animals, very small breeds and senior pets are more susceptible to changes in temperature and exposure to extreme cold. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below a normal temperature of 38.2 to 38.7°C. It occurs in three stages according to the drop in body temperature: mild (32 to 35°C), moderate (28 to 32°C) and severe (lower than 28°C). Symptoms present according to the level of hypothermia. An animal with mild hypothermia may appear weak with excessive shivering. Symptoms of moderate and severe hypothermia include low blood pressure, shallow or difficulty breathing, and weak or inaudible heartbeat. If you suspect hypothermia, bring the animal into a warm environment. Dry off wet fur as much as possible and wrap him in warm blankets. Add a hot water bottle (if possible) and seek veterinary assistance.


Check your pet’s vet card. If yearly vaccinations are due within the next month or two, make a note to book your appointment.


Not all dogs need a jersey. Breeds with thick, rough or wiry coats cope very well in our climate. If you have a smaller breed with a thin coat, a jersey will keep him warm and prevent excessive shivering. Treat your dog’s jersey as you would your own – it should be changed and washed daily.


Even if your dog does sleep indoors, if he is left outdoors during the day while you are at work, he should have a kennel. Consider the kennel’s location in the garden. The angle of the sun is much lower in winter, so check for glare. The midday sun, even in winter, can be hot, so ideally, the kennel should have some shade at midday. A solid structure can act as a windbreak. If you live in a winter rainfall area, make sure the entrance is away from the direction of the rain and the kennel is placed on bricks or a concrete slab to keep bedding dry.

Light collars

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have been introduced to dog collars to produce a bright light that helps you keep track of your dog in darkness. The sun rises late and sets much earlier in winter, so if you do walk your dog before sunrise or at dusk, consider one of these for safety. LED collars are available in a myriad of different colours.


Winter is cold and flu season. This often means that over-the-counter and prescription medication is left out in the open. Dogs and cats may ingest pills or knock over glass bottles. Keep all medicine inside a cupboard for safety. Never medicate your pet with human medicine without first checking with your vet.

Neighbourhood cats

Consider cats who may prowl around at night. A cat may climb inside your car’s engine to keep warm. Give the bonnet a firm thump before you start the engine.

The A to Z of getting through winter shutterstock 425734216 1

Observe your pet

If your dog is outdoors and shows signs of discomfort, allow him inside. He may whimper at the door, scratch to get in or appear restless. If he has a bed outdoors and curls himself tightly into a ball and shivers, he is cold and should be brought inside.

Paw pads

Dry air can cause small cracks to develop in paw pads, and this can be very painful. Keep the fur around the paw neatly trimmed and rub in some petroleum jelly to prevent dryness. If you live in a winter rainfall area or experience winter snow, keep a towel at the door and wipe off your pet’s paws if you’ve been outdoors. If you experience slippery winter conditions, make sure decks, patios and driveways are safe to walk on before you let your pet out in the morning.

Power outages

During winter the demand for more power can lead to power shortages and load- shedding. This not only leaves us humans stranded, but can have fatal consequences for some pets. If you run an aquarium or keep reptiles who need to be maintained in a critical environment using electricity, you must have a backup power supply, like a small generator or inverter.


Rabbits cannot survive temperatures. Hutches positioned for high summer temperatures need to be moved to provide better protection from the cold. Where possible, move the hutch into a garage, garden shed or enclosed porch. Your rabbit will develop a thicker coat for the winter and will instinctively look for more food. The additional kilojoules will provide some body fat, which provides insulation against the cold. Add a layer of newspaper to the base of the hutch, and plenty of straw for insulation. Check and refill water containers daily. Exercise is still important in winter, so regularly take your rabbit indoors for some playtime.

Senior pets

Senior pets may develop arthritis and other joint problems. These can flare up in cold weather, increasing pain and discomfort. Older pets, especially those with joint problems, or even younger dogs diagnosed with joint problems, should be kept indoors in winter. Ensure that your pet’s bed is placed in a draught-free area. A thick foam mattress will help to reduce pressure on the joints. If your dog struggles to climb stairs, place his bed on the ground floor. Ask your vet about a joint supplement to help reduce joint discomfort.

Toys and towers for cats

Consider a daily interactive play session to get a lethargic kitty off the couch. Purchase a selection of appropriate toys like feather wands and catnip toys. If your cat is used to the outdoor lifestyle in summer but you keep her indoors in winter, add a cat tower close to a window where she can still monitor the world outside.

The A to Z of getting through winter shutterstock 379142245

Vet visit

If you notice that your pet seems to be struggling to get out of bed in the morning, moves very slowly or limps constantly, see your vet for a check-up. Arthritis and other joint conditions can be very painful in cold weather. Your vet will assess your pet and prescribe pain relief and other medication he or she deems necessary.


Monitor an outdoor water bowl, especially in areas that experience frost and ice during winter. Break the ice layer in the morning and top up with fresh water. Some dogs and cats won’t drink very cold water, so keep a bowl indoors where the water will be at room temperature.

Zap ticks and fleas

As the weather gets colder parasite numbers do decrease, but there are many parts of the country that experience a very temperate climate, with little effect on these bugs. If you follow a monthly programme, continue it through the winter to ensure that your pet stays tick and flea free.


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