Are they comfortable? Are they warm enough? Are they eating enough? Are they inside too much? It is completely normal to worry for older pets during the winter months as the they can be trying for elderly pets - with harsh weather, cold floors and long dark nights. However, there are some easy steps all pet owners can take to help support their golden oldies through the colder season. Bring outdoor pets inside Bring them inside, or at least provide a sheltered and warm area outside. Pets shouldn’t be left outside during the winter months without shelter. Remember when you’re out and about cars can get very cold too and older pets can suffer more easily with hypothermia if left in vehicles during the cold season. Provide extra warmth Older pets are prone to a chill, and the cold can provoke joint conditions such as arthritis. Breeds with thinner coats will be more susceptible to cold, as will those pets with chronic health conditions. There are plenty of dog jumpers and jackets available for every size and shape of pooch. They can be worn outdoors from weather protection or even indoors for extra warmth. Allow your dog to investigate a dog jacket/jumper before wearing it, and try it on for short periods first with plenty of rewards and reassurance. To protect from draughts, cosy bedding should ideally be raised off the floor. Extra blankets and thick bedding will help insulate and warm sleeping pets. Extra padding will also help protect stiff joints from hard, cold floors, and keep those senior pets who have lost a bit of condition more comfortable. Chemicals, grits and salts Be aware of chemical hazards when your pet is outdoors. Grit and salt can stick to the paws and irritate them, even causing sores and ulceration if not removed. After they go outside, check your pets’ paws and wash off any substances before they can cause any problems. Even in small quantities, Antifreeze can be extremely toxic. However, it tastes sweet, so dogs and cats are often attracted to it. Clean up any spills immediately, and consider looking for a product which is free from ethylene glycol (which is the ingredient which makes antifreeze toxic to animals). Exercise Don’t be tempted to let older dogs skip a walk or to keep an elderly cat indoors. Keeping your pets exercising is vital for their joints, their muscle tone, their weight control and for positive mental stimulation. Keep walks shorter but more frequent so they are exposed less to cold temperature, the ground conditions or the weather. Senior dogs don’t necessarily need a long hike, but a short walk with plenty of time to sniff and explore at their own pace is best. Keep away from icy ponds to avoid any accidental freezing dips! Always check your dog’s paws after a walk, and remove any mud, stones, ice or debris. Senior cats may not want to go outside as much in colder weather, so try and encourage some playtime at home for exercise. Introduce some gentle play and stimulation with treat balls and puzzle feeders. Food Some senior pets struggle to maintain their weight as they age, some find that a more sedentary lifestyle in their older years leads them to weight gain. Your pet may need a slight increase in calorie intake to maintain their core temperature during winter, if they are outside a lot or exposed to cold temperatures. However, this is easily overdone, especially if they are exercising less, so keep a close eye on their weight and speak to a veterinary surgeon if you would like advice on their diet and food intake. Remember, despite the cooler temperatures, pets can still become dehydrated in the colder months. So always make sure your senior pets can easily access fresh water and that outside water sources should be regularly checked to make sure they aren’t frozen over.
Grooming Thick and thin coats… coat care is always important to prevent tangles and matts that can be uncomfortable and even lead to underlying skin problems. For particular coat types regular grooming is essential all year round, and regular coat maintenance is advisable for most dogs and long-haired cats. Be aware also, that centrally heated homes can dry out skin, leading to itching and flaking, which can be alleviated by thorough brushing. Winter Care: Final Thoughts The colder months can be a worrying time for many, but there are lots of ways to keep our older pets comfortable. Warmth, gentle exercise, appropriate food, and good grooming are all aspects of pet ownership to focus on during the colder months. Our pets are precious creatures and keeping them safe and happy is every pet owner’s wish.