Winter’s coming: Caring for outdoor pets

Now that the clocks have gone back and the Christmas lights are going up, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that winter is on its way. Along with the longer nights and colder temperatures, comes the need to take some extra precautions so that pets who live outdoors don’t suffer with the winter chills; we’ve put together a list of simple steps you can take to ensure your pets stay cosy till the spring:

Rabbits and guinea pigs

Rabbits have naturally adapted to cope with the cold fairly well, but damp and draughty conditions can easily lead to illness or worsen arthritis, especially in older bunnies.

  • Check the hutch for signs that water is getting in and block up any gaps
  • Ensure that the roof slopes towards the back to drain water away
  • The base of the hutch should be raised at least 10cm above the ground in order to avoid damp and rot
  • Re-apply waterproofing paint and/or covers (plastic sheeting, tarpaulin etc.) regularly
  • Position the hutch away from the wind
  • Cover with an old blanket or piece of carpet at night, or a fitted protective cover
  • Take care to make sure that there is still adequate ventilation for your pets, leaving the mesh free during the day
  • Ideally, move the hutch into a shed or garage, but only if vehicles are not regularly driven in and out – the carbon monoxide in exhaust fumes can quickly be fatal to small animals
  • Provide plenty of fresh haw and straw, along with scrunched-up newspaper for your pets to burrow and snuggle in to
    Microwaveable heat pads are available for rabbits and guinea pigs; placed in the hutch at night they offer some welcome extra heat
  • Check that your stores of straw, hay and wood shavings do not become damp and mouldy; eating these could cause your pets to become ill
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for play and exercise – whilst more difficult during the winter, they remain essential to your pets’ health. On dry days your pets can still spend time in their run, and you can also bring them inside for a supervised run around.
  • Check water bottles at least twice a day as these can easily freeze, and your pet may drink more during the colder weather when access to fresh grass and greens is reduced. You might want to add a water bowl in addition to the usual bottle

If your pets are old, young, ill or underweight, you may wish to consider bringing them indoors for the winter. If so, it’s best to choose a quiet part of the house, and provide familiar items with comforting smells in order to avoid stressing your pet. With patience, rabbits can even be litter trained!

Caring for outdoor pets

Fish

If you have fish in a pond outdoors, now is the time to clear away fallen leaves and organic matter from the pond, cut back dead or dying aquatic plants and turn off your filter and pump before the water freezes.
Hopefully you have been feeding your fish with a high protein food over the summer, building up fat reserves to help them through the winter. As the water temperature drops, the amount of food given should be reduced, stopping altogether once the temperature falls below 100C. A wheatgerm-based food is good, as it is easily digested.

Horses

The RSPCA has put together a handy checklist for horse carers, detailing some extra considerations you may wish to bear in mind as winter approaches.

With a bit of preparation, your pets can comfortably weather the approaching winter, and spring will be here before we know it!

Until next time, very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Please note: The Ralph Site is not affiliated with the third-party organisations in any of the links shared here, and the views, ideas and suggestions expressed in this and other blogs are simply shared with the intention of helping you, our friends, take care of the special animals in your lives.

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