Winter pet protection

Keeping pets safe and warm this winter. Picture: UNSPLASH.

As temperatures drop around the state and Victorians prepare for even colder weather, RSPCA Victoria is urging pet owners to think about how the coming winter months might affect their animals.

Regardless of whether you have dogs, cats, horses or small animals such as guinea pigs or rabbits, they all need to be considered during cold weather and owners may need to adjust the way they care for them to ensure they stay happy and healthy.

RSPCA Victoria’s CEO Dr Liz Walker said that while many of us are aware of the risks that come with hot weather, sub zero temperatures in some areas of Victoria posed a real welfare risk, particularly for animals who spend time outdoors.

“Winter is a busy time for our Inspectorate. We receive an influx of reports from concerned individuals who are worried about an animal’s welfare during the cold months. It’s important pet owners consider any additional requirements needed during winter, such as extra bedding, more food and adequate shelter away from the wind and rain.

“Like many of their owners, our more vulnerable pets often suffer in cold weather, especially those who are very young, elderly, live outdoors or suffer from health conditions such as arthritis.”

Dr Walker explained there are a number of ways to protect animals from suffering in the cold, though ultimately, the best protection is to bring them indoors where possible.

This is especially important for small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs whose body temperatures can drop dangerously low in cold weather.

“In addition to making sure indoor pets have a warm place to sleep away from drafts, also make sure heating units are safe and have guards so that pets don’t suffer burns. Always ensure outdoor pets have proper shelter and a place to sleep away from the elements.

“Animals may require more food during cold weather as it takes more energy to regulate their body temperature in the cold. Consult your veterinarian on what is right for your pet. And remember that access to water during cold weather is still important, so make sure to check outdoor water bowls and troughs aren’t frozen and provide more than one water source where possible.

“If your pet suffers from arthritis, the winter months can be more difficult to manage so make sure to speak with your veterinarian about how to best manage this condition in cold weather.”

RSPCA Victoria also encourages owners to think about the welfare of their farm animals in cold weather.

They should be able to move from their paddocks into three-sided shelters to escape the cold, rain and wind. Chickens will need extra bedding to keep them warm.

Dr Walker also talked about the importance of exercise for animals, even in colder weather.

“It may be tempting to reduce exercise during the winter months but exercise remains important for their wellbeing. If your dog spends a lot of time indoors, make sure to provide them with enrichment, such as games and food dispensing toys, to keep their minds active and consider taking them for walks with other dogs.

“When exercising in the dark, we want dog walkers and horse riders to keep themselves and their animals safe. Consider reflective clothing or lights to alert other people and traffic,” Dr Walker said.

For more information about caring for pets in cold weather, which dogs need jackets and whether to rug your horse, visit RSPCA’s Knowledgebase.