Pets Outdoors in Winter

Posted on February 12th, 2012 by Pets Corner

It’s rather chilly outside at the moment, if you havn’t noticed, we most certainly have! Your pets that live outside could be feeling these cold days and espicially cold nights a lot more than you realise.

If you’re concerned about your furry friends and wondering if you’re doing enough, we are here to give you some tips about how to keep them warm during this cold spell.

Mammals and birds can only be housed outdoors between the 1st of May and the middle to end of October (depending when the frost starts) so they can get acclimatised to the colder weather.

You shouldn’t put animals outside between the months of November to April as animals that have been kept indoors would not have the right fur or feather density to protect them, so it could be fatal if they are exposured to the cold.

Once they are outdoors they can then stay outside all year round as long as the hutch or aviary is in a sheltered place with a separate hideaway sleeping or resting area.

Should I bring my Small Animals indoors when it's cold?

If you bring a pet indoors (other than for short periods of exercise) they must stay indoors for the entire winter. Animals build up a winter coat; if they are brought inside for the night and put out again during the day, they may start to moult their thick coat – causing stress, and making them vulnerable to the cold. Remember, the temperature of a house can differ by as much as 20 degrees, this extreme temperature difference will make the pet feel freezing when put back outside.

If you don’t want to keep the pet in all winter, it is best to leave them outside and take measures to ensure the pet doesn’t get too cold. If an animal is very young, elderly or ill, it may be best to house them indoors for the whole winter.

Shed or Garage

It is not ideal to keep animals that live on their own in the shed or garage unless the weather is extreme. There is nothing in a shed or garage that will stimulate an animal so this can be cruel, unless kept with a companion or other animals that are living in the shed as well.

Out of sight, out of mind – if you can’t see them you may forget to feed and water them. Animals are best kept in the garden near the house so they can be seen from a window or door. Sheds are not ideal as they are usually at the bottom of the garden with only a small window and no ventilation.

If the animals are very young, old or unwell they may well have to be brought indoors for the whole winter. There are cages available like the Ferplast Rabbit 100.

Shed or Garage ‘Must’ and ‘Must Nots’:

  • They must have ample daylight
  • They must be well ventilated and be draught and damp free
  • They must not be used to store paint or chemicals, as they fumes could be harmful
  • You must not put pets in a garage if you park a car in it – the fumes could damage them or even be fatal

Birds in Aviaries
All birds kept outdoors should have an enclosed compartment that they can retreat into, which should be heated and the entrance shouldn’t be facing in the direction of the wind and rain.

Small Animal winter check list:

  • Mammals must have a separate sleeping compartment out of draughts and the rain
  • If it is snowing the hutch should be facing south or west and in normal cold and rainy weather it should face north or east. This is so the rain and wind doesn’t blow in through the front of the hutch, and the same for the snow and the northern winds
  • The hutch should be near the house so you can keep an eye on them through the window. If they are put at the bottom of the garden it is more likely predators will gain access
  • If you do not have a hutch cover, buy some tarpaulin from a garden centre or B&Q. A blanket or piece of carpet can then be put underneath the tarpaulin for extra warmth, although don’t cover over the front of the hutch all day as they will be in the dark
  • You could line the hutch sleeping section with thick brown cardboard for extra insulation
  • The hutch should be raised off the ground to help prevent the cold, the damp and rodents
  • Bed down the floor of the hutch with a thick layer of shavings, and pack the bed area with straw. Straw is hollow so it is a fantastic insulator. Hay should be given to rabbits and guinea pigs to eat. Both hay and straw should be topped up daily

Keep pets busy!
If the opportunity for pets to exercise out of their hutch is decreased in the winter (they should still be exercising indoors at least once per week) compensate by providing more toys, hiding food, treat balls, stuffing hay into wicker balls etc. Be creative – being stuck in a hutch is no fun!

Water
As water freezes outside very quickly the bottle should be protected with an insulation sleeve. If you are having problems with freezing water try the insulated bottle that we stock, it stops the freeze in the winter yet cools down the water in the summer. Dehydration can be fatal to animals even in cold weather.

The other option is to always have two water bottles. 1. They can crack if they freeze and 2. So you can swap the frozen one for a freshly filled up bottle throughout the day. Don’t give animal’s de-frosted water as it could cause digestive upsets.

Heat Pads
We stock Snugglesafe Microwavable Heat Pads; they can be used in the hutch to help keep pets warm. Once you start using a heat pad you really need to use it all the time through the cold weather. Once heated, the pad can stay warm for around 10-12 hours; it must be placed right underneath the bedding with its cover on, as the pad gets extremely hot at first and you don’t want the animals to be able to touch it.

Food
Feed the animals as normal – twice per day, this also enables you to check them twice. Rabbits and Guinea pigs need to be fed plenty of hay. Be creative and encourage foraging for stimulation.

Exercise
Animals still need exercise in the winter months, so they will need to be exercised in a safe place indoors at the very least once a week. G&S Indoor Play Pens are ideal.

If you would like any more advise on your pets keeping warm or general information on keeping animals please visit one of our stores and chat to a member of staff.

You can look for your nearest store by clicking here.

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