As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop many of us will be spending the evenings cozied up by the fire with the dog, or cat and watching TV with a mug of hot chocolate. Whilst going out in the cold may seem like the very last thing you want to do this winter, it could make all the difference to your small animals. Rabbit, guinea pigs and ferrets are traditionally kept outside but cannot cope with dramatic, rapid changes in temperatures. Ideally your small animals should be brought inside over winter but if that’s not possible then here are a few handy tips your outdoor pets warm:
1. Make sure they have plenty of food
In winter animals will naturally want to eat more as they use more energy to conserve heat and create a layer of fat to help insulate them.
2. Check their water regularly
In extreme weather it is possible for water bottles to freeze so make sure that your outdoor pets have constant access to clean fresh water. You can get special sleeves for water bottles – check in your nearest pet supply shop
3. Move the hutch somewhere sheltered
Draughts and rain can cause serious problems for outdoor pets. Even if it doesn’t feel that cold outside move the hutch into the shed, the side of the house or in a sheltered corner of the garden. You can also cover part of the hutch with a thick blanket, but ensure you leave space for your pet to look outside as well.
4. Give them extra bedding
By putting extra straw/hay or shredded paper into the sleeping area your pet can make their own bed extra warm. Newspaper is an excellent insulator so line the bottom of the hutch with a thick layer to stop heat escaping.
5. Clean out the hutch more often
Sitting on wet bedding is going to make you pets colder and urine can freeze very quickly. Make sure that the toilet area is cleared and changed on a daily basis to ensure that your pets stay warm and dry.
6. Get microwavable heat pads
If you think that your pets are still feeling the cold you can buy a pet friendly microwavable heat pad. These are better than hot water bottles which can quickly lose their heat and actually make your pets colder.
7. Insulate the hutch
Check the hutch for gaps or holes. Cover the roof with tarpaulin and add a layer of newspaper between the two for extra warmth. If you have any spare carpet use this to line the walls of the hutch (be careful to check this regularly as small animals have a tendency to nibble!) and use a pet friendly varnish to further weatherproof the wood.
Your pets still need to exercise over winter too so ensure they’ve got an area free of mud and rain to do this in. If you bring them inside for exercise always be careful as the change in temperature when they go back outside can harm them.
It can be tempting when it’s cold to just clean out your small animals as quickly as possible and get back to the warmth, but remember that your pets are relying completely on you for their enrichment and stimulation. It’s a cold, lonely world for a pet who is locked in a hutch with nothing to keep them occupied. Make sure you spend plenty of time socialising them and give them lots of toys and activities to keep them busy.
Animals do not always shiver if they are cold and cannot tell us how they feel. Do keep an eye on your outdoor pets over Christmas. If you are in any way concerned about the health and wellbeing of your animal contact a vet to ask for advice. Remember, if possible always bring your pets inside over the winter months to help keep them toasty and warm!