The temperature is dropping and the weather is changing - winter is definitely here! Animals, both pets and wildlife, have different needs in winter and it's worth looking at what you can do to keep them safe, warm and happy until the spring sunshine arrives.
Dogs spend most of their time inside if they are pets, so make sure they are warm enough indoors and have somewhere nice and warm to sleep. It's most important to look at how you can keep them happy when they're out and about, as different breeds will have different tolerance to the cold. Breeds with long or dense fur, such as Huskies, aren't likely to suffer much as they are bred to keep the heat in and the cold out so they probably won't complain much when they're on a walk! However, short haired breeds like Staffies benefit from a coat to keep the wind away from their skin as they feel the cold much more. Smaller dogs also tend to get cold quickly, so make sure that they are thoroughly dried when they get back from a walk and think about investing in a coat to keep them toasty when they're outside.
Also remember to check your dogs pads, as the wet weather can irritate the skin and cause infections. Dry their feet thoroughly after a muddy walk or a bath to prevent any nasty surprises!
Short-haired breeds benefit from a coat when the weather gets cold
Cats are sensible when it comes to cold weather - they stay inside when it rains and always find the cosiest place to curl up and nap when the weather is less than ideal. However, if your cat does tend to go out and about in all weathers, make sure you call them in before it gets dark. Temperatures can drop rapidly after the sun goes down, and a cat left out in the rain and cold overnight could end up very sick. Most of the time they are sensible enough to find somewhere sheltered to hide out, but it's always nicer to have them curled up at home with you when it's dark!
Keep an eye on your cat around heating appliances and fires, as they do love a good warm spot and can end up injuring themselves if they curl up too close. A radiator bed designed for cats gives them somewhere toasty to curl up where you know they won't burn themselves.
Also remember that cats are known to hide under cars when it gets cold, as the metal traps the heat and they warm up under there. Always check under your car, and on top of the tyres to make sure there are no kitties hiding there!
Cats appreciate a nice warm bed in the winter!
Rabbits and small animals
Rabbits are very susceptible to problems with the cold as many of them live outside in hutches. It's very important to invest in a good hutch cover for your rabbit to stop the rain getting in, which soaks into their bedding and leaves them vulnerable to catching bugs. It also means that any extra bedding you put in to keep them warm will be sodden, which means you'd need to buy far more of it to replace every day. Make sure your hutch cover is waterproof to keep the rain out, but also warm to keep the heat in. Make sure their water bottles don't freeze over, which is common in very cold temperatures overnight. You can buy water bottle covers, or simply use a towel or old sock to wrap around the bottle - this should keep it warm enough to prevent it from freezing and leaving your rabbit thirsty.
Increase the amount of bedding you give to your bunny, and think about insulating the hutch to trap as much warmth in as possible. You can find a great guide for insulating a hutch here. Remember that rabbits aren't great at regulating their body temperature, so don't move them suddenly from a very cold area to a very warm area. Rabbits should never need bathing anyway, but definitely avoid getting them wet in the winter! Provide them with lots of hay to keep their weight up as they graze.
Small animals will need more bedding in the winter to keep them warm and allow them to build a nest to curl up in. Avoid keeping small animal cages near windows, as they are susceptible to draughts, but don't put them directly next to heaters as they are likely to overheat.
Make sure your rabbit has enough bedding to keep warm
Consider helping out the wildlife in your garden this winter. It can be a very difficult time of year for the birds in particular, so you can help by providing them with extra food to keep them going. Wild birds really benefit from bird feeders (make sure they are squirrel proof!) with sunflower seeds, or fat balls for birds are very helpful for them in the coldest weather. If you have a bird bath, make sure the water isn't frozen so the birds can still drink. You could also put up a bird box in the garden to give them some shelter.
Other animals also need extra help in the winter. Keep your pond active by melting a small hole in the ice if it freezes over - place a saucepan of hot water on the ice to melt a hole, but don't crack the ice by hitting it as this will frighten the animals living in the water. Bug boxes are a great way to keep ladybirds and lacewings safe in the winter, and hedgehog boxes are great for hibernating hedgehogs. Remember that wild animals will be looking for sheltered places to hibernate so always look out for hedgehogs, toads and frogs in your compost heap before you turn it, and in bonfires before you light them.
Winter can be a beautiful time of year, and you can help the animals in your life stay safe and warm until the next summer!