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Keep Your Pets Warm Over Winter

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Perhaps your beloved terrier dreams of running with the wolves through snowy woods. In reality, most modern pets are ill-prepared for winter. Animals can't plan ahead for cold weather, so you've got to do the planning for them.

Sheltering Your Pet

If at all possible, keep your pet inside over the winter, particularly at night or when the weather is bad. Provide dogs and cats with appropriate bedding in a warm spot. Elderly pets will appreciate a heating pad, as cold temperatures can aggravate arthritis and other aches and pains. 

Small mammals and birds should be kept away from windows and drafts. Cover cages at night with a thick, insulating cover. A small fabric tent or pocket can be wonderful for small animals or birds to snuggle into for warmth. Make sure it is pet-safe, as, sooner or later, it will be used as a chew-toy. 

If your pet must be kept outdoors, provide it with a weather-tight shelter. It should be small enough to be warmed by your pet's body heat and the bedding should be thick and kept off the ground. The roof must be sloped to allow rain and snow to fall off and the door must be protected from wind and rain. Any outdoor food and water containers need to be made of heavy plastic, preferably with insulated bottoms, so they won't freeze. Small animals kept outside should be housed in pairs or small groups, so they can share body warmth, as well as companionship. 

Grooming and Hygiene

Don't ever shave a dog or cat during the winter, as you will remove the important undercoat which holds heat against their skin. Brushing your pets regularly will stimulate their skin to produce oils which help with insulation and waterproofing. If possible, don't wash your pet during winter, as this will remove those natural oils. A sweater can be a good idea for walks, but clothes can quickly become too warm when worn indoors, or over a thick coat. 

Humidity often drops during the winter, which can dry out skin and nasal passages. If your pets look a bit flaky, running a humidifier can help.

Health and Well-being

Winter means burning more calories, just to keep warm. Don't overfeed your pets, but provide them with plenty of nutritious food and constant access to fresh water. Small animals and birds will also need fresh greens every day. 

A pet might show reluctance to be active in cold weather, but encourage them as much as you can. Take your dog for regular walks, play with your cat and give your bird space to stretch its wings. Toys can be great for almost any kind of pet to keep them stimulated indoors during bad weather. Active, healthy muscles help to maintain body heat. 


About the author

Melbourne-based freelance writer Rachel Sawaya has a Masters of Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington. Rachel has traveled extensively, and been employed as an aid worker, a librarian and a teacher, but writing has always been her first love. She has worked for WiseGEEK, Xiaoduo Media and Demand Studios, among others.

Rachel has an enduring love and fascination for animals of all kinds. She has kept doves, guinea fowl, horses, rabbits, quail, hamsters, frogs, dogs, cats and basically any animal that seemed to need a home.

Originally from New Zealand, Rachel is still hoping to see a snake in the wild, but so far the Melbourne suburbs have disappointed her.

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Guest Thursday, 29 July 2021