Winter health advice for pets

While spring might be just around the corner, the cold weather recently is a reminder that we are still officially in winter.

Before you pack away the blankets and heaters, here’s a timely reminder of some tips to keep your pets warm and comfy during these cold days and nights.

White cat cold and sleeping under white blanket

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Like humans, pets experience discomfort when exposed to cold weather; we share a vets’ timely winter health advice for pets.

Not only is it uncomfortable, the cold weather can also exacerbate certain health conditions, such as arthritis or respiratory issues, in pets.

Pets with weakened immune systems or those susceptible to infections could also be more prone to illnesses during the winter.

As Australia continues to experience some of the coldest winter days in years, Petstock vet Dr Tara Morris shares her winter health advice for pets.

Dr Tara also tells our readers the importance of taking some extra precautions to ensure their pets remain healthy and happy this winter.

Protecting pets’ skin this winter

Dr Morris says that  as well as feeling uncomfortable in the cold, winter can pose some healthy and safety risks to pets also.

It’s no secret we value the health and safety of our pets, with 27% of owners confessing they leave the heating on specifically for their four-legged friends in winter.

In winter, the outside air is cold, the humidity is low and pets are repeatedly travelling in between their heated homes and the cold elements,” says Dr Tara.

“Just like humans, these conditions can cause pets to develop dry, itchy, cracked and flaky skin.”

To avoid skin conditions from the cold, Dr Tara says owners should take the following steps:

Avoid bathing pets too often washing too regularly can remove the essential oils from your pet’s skin and increase dryness. If your dog has a healthy coat and normal skin, bathing your dog no more than once a month with a good moisturising shampoo is sufficient. As cats clean themselves naturally, you should only clean them with waterless shampoo or bathe them when they are particularly dirty.

Brush your pets coat on a regular basis regularly brushing your pet will help to distribute the natural oils that help keep their coat shiny and skin healthy.

Moisturise regularly the cold weather can particularly cause dryness and cracking to the exposed areas of your pet’s skin, such as their nose, ears and paws. You can use a natural paw balm to effectively protect your pet’s skin against the cold.

Keep your home humidified humidifiers can help maintain the moisture in the air and prevent dryness that can lead to irritation to your cat or dog’s skin, nose, throat, and lips.

Consult your vet if you notice that your pet is scratching excessively and is obviously experiencing discomfort, it’s best to have your pet examined by a veterinarian.

Photo of Dr Tara Morris holding her dog after sharing winter pet care advice
Dr Tara Morris shares her expert winter pet care advice to keep pets healthy and warm (credit: Petstock)

Winter coats for pets

With the change in season, many pet parents look to refresh their pet’s wardrobe with new winter coats.

But while the aim is to keep their pets warm, Dr Morris says it’s important to ensure the coat doesn’t make them uncomfortable or distressed.

“As a general rule of thumb, large dogs with thick, dense coats are well protected from the cold and don’t require extra warmth,” says Dr Morris.

“However, senior dogs who are prone to conditions such as arthritis, short-haired breeds, and dogs who have been clipped can reap the benefits of a winter coat.

“It’s important to look out for signs that may indicate your pet is uncomfortable or anxious (in the coat).

 “Common signs of distress can include shaking, whining, panting or a change in posture.”

“Also ensure that your pet’s outfit doesn’t restrict their movements, isn’t too loose (as this may be a tripping hazard) and that their limbs aren’t caught on any fabric.”

Five essential tips for a pet-friendly winter

Provide appropriate shelter

Keep up exercise and mental stimulation

Dress pets appropriately

Limit outdoor exposure

Winter pet friendly diet

Pet proofing your home

With pets spending more time indoors in winter, it’s a great idea to pet-proof your home to eliminate any hazards, particularly if your pet is prone to getting up to mischief.

“Store lit candles away from paws reach and if you have an indoor wood heater, always use a safety screen or guard to protect your pet.

“This will prevent them from accidentally burning themselves as well as stop them from knocking potentially combustible materials onto the heater and starting a house fire.

“If you have a gas heater, have it serviced at the start of the season prior to using it to ensure it is not leaking carbon monoxide, a dangerous, odourless gas that can be lethal for both humans and pets.”

Dr Tara adds that ror owners who don’t allow pets to snuggle up on human furniture, create a designated indoor space with their bed, favourite toys and water bowl, so they have a comfortable place to retreat from the cold.

Ensure regular exercise

While it might be harder for everyone in the family to get out of the house when it’s cold outside, it is the responsibility of a pet owner to keep up their pets’ exercise.

It doesn’t have to be a long run with your pooch, a popular activity that we’ve spoken about previously, but exercise that’s modified for the cold weather is vital.

“Whether it’s braving the cold for a walk, playing tug of war indoors or occupying your cat with a scratch pole,” says Dr Morris.

Woman walking dog on boardwalk in cold weather
Dogs still need regular exercise during winter for their mental and physical health (credit: Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash)

“If canines don’t receive enough physical activity and expend their energy, they can develop behavioural issues and demonstrate destructive behaviours such as chewing, barking, or digging.

Gentle daily exercise in winter is also essential for senior pets (read our previous post for more tips on caring for senior pets), because it promotes good circulation, helps manage their weight and keeps their muscle strength toned.

If you’re looking for ways to keep your pet physically and mentally stimulated in winter, we share some top ideas below.

Head to the Petstock website to see all the winter coats, beds and skin treatments that Dr Tara recommends this winter.

Winter activity ideas for pets

Indoor games: Engage your pet in interactive games such as hide-and-seek, puzzle toys, or treat-dispensing toys. These activities can keep their minds sharp and provide mental stimulation.

Indoor obstacle course: Set up a small obstacle course using household items like cushions, tunnels, and low jumps.

Train your pet to navigate through the course, rewarding them with treats and praise.

Winter walks: Bundle up your pet in appropriate winter gear such as jackets or booties and take them for walks.

Explore your neighbourhood or nearby parks while enjoying the winter scenery. Just ensure your pet is comfortable and protected from the cold.

Indoor agility exercises: Create a makeshift agility course inside your home using household objects like hula hoops, broomsticks, or small ramps.

Teach your pet to navigate through the course using positive reinforcement and treats.

Hide-and-seek treats: Hide small treats or toys around the house and encourage your pet to find them using their sense of smell.

This activity can provide mental stimulation and keep them occupied indoors.

Pet playdates: Arrange playdates with other pet owners who have indoor spaces suitable for pets.

This can be a great way for your pet to socialize and burn off energy with furry friends.

Interactive toys: Invest in interactive toys designed to keep pets mentally engaged.

Examples include treat-dispensing puzzles or electronic toys that move or make sounds, stimulating your pet’s curiosity and playfulness