Caring for your pet during winter

The colder months can have many of us snuggling up in warm comfy blankets and wearing our favourite pair of slippers but for our pets, it’s important to remember that like us, they too feel the effects of winter. Just like we take extra steps to keep ourselves comfortable, it’s important that we do that same for our furry family members. Here are some great tips to help care for your pet in winter.

Extra TLC for senior pets

If your older pet has started to find it a little harder to get up and down or is a bit slower on those daily walks, they may be feeling the effects of the colder weather. The lower temperatures can have a huge impact on our senior pets and just like people, the drop in temperature can aggravate stiff joints or flare up arthritis. Be mindful of adjusting your exercise regime to consider how your older pet may cope with exercising during the colder months. Try to limit the walks to no more than 20 minutes a day, and while gentle exercise can encourage good circulation and cardio-health, it’s also important to remember that any extra weight on your pet will also make joint pain worse – especially in winter.

If you notice your pet is showing signs of discomfort associated with arthritis, you should take them to a vet for a check-up. Signs of pain or discomfort include stiffness, chewing or licking certain joints, difficulty walking up or down stairs, eating slowly and noticeable behavioural changes due to pain. Your vet may recommend a range of treatment plans including supplements, medication and other forms of pain relief to help manage your older pet’s stiff joints.

Keep all the family members warm

Just like we may retreat indoors to stay warm, be sure to consider the comfort and safety of your pet in winter. Exposure to the elements can be detrimental to your pet’s health and your pet should have adequate shelter to keep them warm and dry. Many pets simply can’t cope with the harsh winter temperatures, especially at night so be sure to create a suitable place where your dog can be kept in winter. When creating a suitable space, remember:

  • Make sure your pet has a warm place to rest, away from cold drafts and is elevated off cold, hard surfaces
  • Your pet should not be outside for long periods during winter – they can suffer from hypothermia just like us!
  • If your pet needs to be outside, make sure they have access to a draught-free kennel that protects them from wind and rain
  • Provide your pet with lots of warm bedding or blankets for extra comfort
  • Older pets or pets with shorter fur should be provided with well-fitted pets coats to help keep them warm
  • Keep your cat inside – AWL NSW recommends that all cats and kittens stay indoors unless a cat-proof outdoor enclosure is provided.
  • Consider giving your dog a place inside to sleep. A comfy bed in the laundry or an appropriate-sized crate or pen inside will help.
  • Be mindful when washing and grooming your pet. Use warm water and where possible, use a dryer to dry their fur so they don’t get cold with wet fur.

Exercise is still important

The cold weather is likely to decrease our motivation to go outside but it’s important for your pet’s health that they have access to appropriate physical and mental stimulation all year round. Not exercising your dog can often lead to many health concerns such as diabetes and excess weight gain, or create undesirable behaviours due to boredom. If the cold weather is likely to stop the daily walks, consider changing your routine so that exercise is achieved in the warmer parts of the day. If you can’t brave the cold, look into trick training or games such as puzzles to keep your pet entertained and happy inside. Winter is also a great time to teach manners and obedience skills. Be sure to use lots of yummy treats when training and then reward yourselves with a cuddle on the couch afterwards!

Winter safety

Curious pets can often get into a world of trouble in winter. Some pets may seek warm places and there’s been many horror stories of pets and wildlife seeking warmth in car engines. This time of year can also see an increase in burn injuries as pets may hurt themselves on heaters or get too close to fireplaces. Heaters can also dry out skin and give our pets sore paws or make them feel itchy. Be sure to restrict access to heaters to help keep your pet safe indoors. Many pet retailers also have pet heating pads available and can be a safe alternate to help keep pets warm in winter.

Is your pet desexed?

Winter can be a great time for your pet to have their annual vet check-up or even get desexed. After winter, comes spring and the arrival of breeding season, and cats in particular can start breeding from a young age so it is crucial that your pet is desexed to stop unwanted litters. Desexing your pet can also have many health and behavioural benefits so be sure to speak to your vet about making an appointment.

In Australia, July is National Desexing Month. Click here to contact your local Animal Welfare League NSW volunteer branch to find out about discounted desexing rates available to pension, health care and concession card holders.

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