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Beat the winter blues - protect your pet from the elements


It's offically winter, so it's important to make sure our pets are safe from the elements. We have some valuable tops on how to help your animals stay warm, happy and healthy during the winter months. 

A cosy bed is a must to ensure your pet has somewhere warm to curl up during the cold months. Cats in particular will love the security of an igloo, which is an enclosed pet bed. Your pet will benefit from another blanket or a snuggly plush bed for extra warmth over winter – and don’t forget extra straw for your small animals.

Winter coats or jumpers are a good option to keep your dog warm – just ensure the coat is well fitted. You can find some neat options at pet stores, or you can even make your pet a cosy jumper yourself. Simply search ‘DIY dog jumper’ on Google. Remember that not all dogs like to wear coats, so always ensure they are comfortable and happy with their winter attire.

Horses can also benefit from a winter coat. A waterproof blanket or rug is a good way to reduce the effects of cold weather and keep your horse warm and dry. Remember to check your horses’ blankets daily to make sure they are fitted correctly. Avoid over-blanketing too – horses can still overheat in cold weather if they have too many layers on.

Heat pads are another great way to keep your pets warm over winter. They are especially beneficial for the elderly, the young and unwell pets. Make sure to get one that is safe for animals and working properly. To avoid accidents or your animal overheating, never leave electric pads on when you are not there, and always make sure that your animal can move away from the heat pad if they want to.

Don't leave animals out in the cold

Adequate shelter is necessary yearround, but it is extremely important when it’s rainy or frosty weather. What makes for a good shelter in the summer months might not be enough to protect your pet from the elements in winter.

If your pets live indoors, make sure that they have a warm area to sleep that is elevated from the cold floor and away from any draughts. If your pet lives outdoors, it’s essential that they have shelter that is well insulated, warm, waterproof and windproof. Raising the shelter off the ground will prevent moisture getting inside and keep it much warmer. Large animals, such as horses, cattle or sheep, should have a three-sided shelter that is easily accessed from their paddocks.

If you have backyard poultry, remember the same rules apply: warm, dry shelter with fresh dry bedding is essential. When possible, we recommend bringing pets inside during cold nights, or anytime there is a cold snap.

During a storm, bring your pets inside

If the weather is severe, we recommend bringing your pets inside to safety. This will protect them from risks such as falling debris, high winds, heavy rain and even more serious dangers such as fallen power lines and lightning strikes. This includes small animals – they may seem happy in their hutch outside, but it’s best to bring them inside where it is safe. Set up a quiet area for them with everything they need such as a litter tray, bedding, and food and water.

For any large animals, ensure they have secure shelter with plenty of access to food and water away from the wind and rain. Keep checking on them when possible. Try and stay calm during a storm, as your pets may become agitated if they notice that you are nervous. Reward calm behaviour with small treats. Stay close to your pets until the bad weather passes.

Exercising in winter

Although it can be hard to motivate yourself in the cold dark days, it’s important to continue taking your dog for daily walks. Dogs will hate being cooped up all season, and giving them the chance to run and play is really important. In fact, winter is a great time to explore local beaches that are offlimits to dogs during the summer. Many beaches around the country allow dogs to run off-leash during the winter. Just make sure that you have towels to dry your dog off and a cosy place where they can warm up afterwards.

Similarly, it is important to keep exercising your horse during the winter months. However, keep in mind that a sweaty horse can quickly become chilled by losing body heat too easily – it’s best to exercise your horse in the morning, when the day is heating up, and make sure that they are dry and warm afterwards.

Cats will be less likely to venture outside in the colder months, so providing them with physical and mental stimulation indoors is also important. You can do this by playing with them with wand toys, balls to chase, or giving them levels around the house to jump up on.

Rabbits and other small animals will also need a dry, safe and warm area to run around.

Rainy-day activities

If it’s too wet for your pets to play outside, there are plenty of ways you can keep them entertained indoors!

Food enrichment such as puzzle feeders are a great way to keep your pooch entertained. Wobblers and puzzle toys are designed to encourage the dog to work for their food using their paws or snout to move the object to reveal the food from the inside. It’s a good idea to fill puzzle toys up with dry kibble – don’t use wet food as it won’t come out of the puzzle toy, can frustrate the dog, and can be extremely hard to clean out thoroughly.

Food-dispensing toys, such as rubber Kongs, are another great food enrichment option. They can be found at pet stores, and filled with various dog-friendly foods such as kibble and wet food, or peanut butter. They will provide hours of entertainment for your four-legged friend. Have a few different food enrichment toys and swap out with each meal to keep your dog interested and enthusiastic. Just make sure that you use food that is appropriate if your dog has any special dietary needs; if in doubt, check with your veterinarian.

Puzzle feeders can be used to feed cats too. You can also play with your cat indoors to help them use up some of their energy. Many cats enjoy interactive toys such as wand toys, stuffed mice, balls to chase or feathers.

Similarly, bunnies and other small animals love playing with toys. They love to investigate, push, pull and play with toys. Swap toys regularly to keep them interested. Here are some toy ideas:

  • Fill toilet paper rolls with hay and treats
  • Hide a slice of fruit or vegetables in a treat ball
  • Hard plastic baby toys make great enrichment items for rabbits to throw around
  • Untreated wicker baskets, wooden ‘fiddlesticks’, cartons and untreated fruit-tree limbs make great shredding fun and are also important for wearing down teeth
  • Telephone books, boxes, cat tunnels and blocks of untreated wood are excellent for stretching, climbing or sitting.

Remember to let them destroy these toys if they want to – that is part of the fun!

Get your pet disaster kit ready

As we’ve already experienced this year, extreme weather events and power outages aren’t uncommon in New Zealand, so it’s also important to be prepared.

Get a pet survival kit together now – this will ensure you and your pet are prepared in an emergency. The kit should include:

  • Carry boxes/cages or lead/rope, for transporting your pet (as appropriate for your specific pet)
  • Vaccination, veterinary records, registration records, microchip details and photographs of your animals (ideally have this information saved online as well)
  • A blanket/bedding
  • Bottled water
  • Food and water bowls
  • Some food and treats
  • Plastic bags/doggie bags/gloves
  • Collar and large name tag (the information on the tag should include the animal’s name, and owner’s address and telephone number)
  • Any medicines your animal needs
  • A first-aid kit for animals and a basic animal first-aid book
  • A list of pet-friendly safe houses (friends/family) or safe shelters (kennels, catteries, pet-friendly hotels).
Read more here:


Helping your arthritic pet 

Older animals tend to find the cold weather over winter a bit of a challenge, especially those with arthritis. Remember to take extra care to ensure that your pet is kept warm and dry, especially when it is cold.

Arthritic animals will be more comfortable if they have a bed (or more than one!) that has plenty of padding for sore joints and that will also keep them warm. This should be away from any draughts and off the floor, but not so high that it is difficult to get to. It’s also important to take care when exercising your pet. Arthritic and elderly animals may have more difficulty walking on slippery surfaces, such as wet ground, snow or ice. They may be more prone to slipping and falling.Take care when walking your pet – go slowly and avoid slippery areas.

If you suspect arthritis, you should take your pet for a check-up with your veterinarian. There are many treatment and management options for arthritis that can help your pet feel more comfortable and be more active well into old age. With your veterinarian’s help, there is a lot you can do to improve your arthritic pet’s quality of life.

Read more here:

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Maggie's journey with the SPCA


When an animal ends up at the SPCA, they have often experienced some sort of suffering in their short life.

hhhWhether they were abused, neglected, lost, or their family just didn’t want them any longer, it is never easy when we welcome them into our care. So when an animal is welcomed into the SPCA not just once, but four times, it is truly heartbreaking. Maggie, the agouti and white rabbit, first arrived at the SPCA after she was handed into an after-hours vet clinic in 2014.

She was then picked up by an SPCA staff member, and so her SPCA history began. The team instantly knew that Maggie was special. She was unlike any other rabbit who had arrived at the SPCA. Maggie was hilarious and strong-willed. She knew what she wanted, and there was no way she would accept anything less. It was exciting to wonder who would be lucky enough to become her new family.

A month later, Maggie was adopted to be bonded with a male rabbit called Couscous, and her future was looking bright. But despite her owner’s best efforts, Maggie decided she appreciated her independence far too much, and didn’t feel like making friends. As a result, she ended up at the SPCA a second time.

Second, third, fourth families

Maggie waited another two months before she was adopted by her second family. They taught her to walk on her hind legs and turn in a full circle for treats, but sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, Maggie was forced to pack her bags and seek refuge at the SPCA for a third time. Six months later, and just a few months after being adopted into her third home, Maggie’s SPCA bedroom had to be made up for her again for her fourth return to the SPCA. Justine, SPCA’s small-animal attendant, was determined to make sure Maggie wasn’t disheartened by this series of unfortunate events.


She was allocated time to run around in a large space every day, and was given many enrichment items for her to dig and destroy. It was no comparison to a real home with a family who loved her, but the perfect home had not yet surfaced. During another six months at the SPCA, Maggie watched 103 other small animals depart with families of their own.

Fifth and final forever home

Then in October 2017, a lovely couple walked through the doors and decided they wanted to give Maggie everything she deserved. It was a memorable moment for SPCA staff when they watched with crossed fingers and hopeful smiles as Maggie was carried out the door. They had a feeling Maggie’s luck had changed, and she had finally found her fifth and final forever home.

Jessica and Robbie, Maggie’s new parents, say that as soon as they met Maggie they instantly knew that Maggie was the rabbit for them. Just like everyone at the SPCA, they loved how she was feisty and clever. These two qualities made her special. “Our friend, who was working at the SPCA, told us about Maggie, as she knew our previous rabbit had sadly passed away,” says Jessica. “Our last bunny, Nibbles, who also didn’t love cuddles or human interaction very much, was just like Maggie – a little bit sassy, but very much still loved by us.”

Maggie has since made friends with Jessica and Robbie’s cat, Shiro. She is loving her life as a solo bunny, but with a part-time feline friend. “We let Maggie out into the garden for an hour when we get home from work, and Shiro will often go and lie down in front of Maggie,” says Jessica. 

Maggie also likes to sit next to Shiro after her adventures in the garden. “They have touched noses a few times which is pretty cute,” Jessica laughs.


Time outside

In her new home, Maggie’s favourite things to do are to play in the garden, dig, eat the herbs, rearrange the fallen cabbage tree leaves, and zoom around at crazy speeds. Jessica says that having to let Maggie out in the afternoons means she and Robbie have also started spending a lot more time outside. “It is nice to have some time outside relaxing each afternoon to watch her bounce around,” says Jessica. “It’s like a type of mindfulness.” Thanks to her wonderful new family who understand Maggie for who she is, Maggie won’t ever be coming back to the SPCA again. It really is fifth time lucky for Maggie – and the SPCA couldn’t be happier for her!



Mark Vette - the dog zen master


Dogs aren't just Mark Vette's job, they are his love, his family and his passion. 

It’s no wonder then that when we call him, Mark answers the phone with ex-SPCA rescue dog Monty sitting at his feet. Monty, a giant schnauzer cross, is one of the hundreds of dogs Mark has rehabilitated in his 40-year career as an animal behaviourist, zoologist and trainer. Monty’s also famous for learning to drive a car!

A love for dogs from a young age

mmMark’s love affair for dogs started when he was just six years old with Scott, his german shepherd dog and best friend. Mark and Scott spent their days exploring the ‘wild forests’ of West Auckland, and every night sleeping on Mark’s bed. But Scott had some behaviour issues.

He would chase chickens, bite people and run away. “I learnt very quickly what it was like to be faced with a dog that caused havoc in your life,” Mark says. Mark swore he would one day find out what made Scott tick, and with the help of his grandfather, a dog trainer in the Second World War, began his journey to become a world-renowned animal behaviourist and trainer.

When Mark went to live amongst and study wolves in North America 40 years ago, his passion for dogs was ignited further. He wondered why dogs showed toned-down wolf behaviours, or why a wolf could never live in a family environment whereas a dog could. Mark learnt about the evolution of dogs, and how and when they began to contribute to our lives.

Eventually he would go on to help thousands of dogs just like Scott, his german shepherd. “I have had the great fortune to spend my life with wolves and dogs,” Mark says. “I have an enormous amount of respect for their intelligence, and for our unique bond with these remarkable beings.”

Transforming dogs with troubled pasts

mmmmOver the last 40 years, Mark has truly proved that dogs are smart enough to do almost anything. As well as teaching giant schnauzer Monty to drive a car, Mark has even taught a dog to fly a plane! Labrador cross Reggie was in an animal shelter, suffering from dog to-dog aggression and an unhealthy obsession with toys.

Mark was Reggie’s last chance. Today, Reggie is not only a pilot, but is a muchloved member of Mark’s family. Mark is also well known for his lead in the TV show Purina Pound Pups to Dog Stars, and training animals for TV shows and Hollywood movies such as Lord of the Rings, Narnia and The Last Samurai. But Mark doesn’t just train dogs for the entertainment industry.

His specialty is taking dogs from backgrounds of abuse and neglect and transforming them into happy and healthy family pets. And he’s been on hand to help SPCA staff with dogs who are suffering psychologically. In one high-profile case, SPCA inspectors rescued a large number of dogs from a hoarding situation. They were suffering from extreme anxiety which affected their ability to live a normal life. Mark and his team took seven of these dogs into their care, rehabilitated them, and eventually found them loving homes. “Mark Vette is someone who we depend on a lot for help and advice,” says SPCA animal services manager, Tracy Dunn.

He also runs workshops with SPCA staff and foster parents to help with consistent methods of dog training, animal handling and upskilling. This training and knowledge is then passed onto the new owner of that dog to help them fit into their brand-new life with ease.

The most important tip for dog owners

mmmThere’s one thing that Mark consistently refers to when it comes to owning a dog: prevention is better than cure.

This means doing the right thing at the right time during the first four months of your puppy’s life – known as the ‘formative period’. These beginning developmental stages play a key role in teaching the puppy how to adjust to novel environments or situations. When a dog is young, they are in a natural learning state. They are naïve, not yet fearful of the world, and eager to learn.

“Dog owners need to understand how critical this formative period is,” says Mark. “You are responsible for exposing your puppy to novel things, and adjusting them to diversity.” He explains that if you don’t introduce your dog to different people, animals, situations and objects as simple as umbrellas at a young age, fear-based aggression and malsocialisation could develop as a result. On the other hand, if a puppy is consistently socialised during that formative period, Mark says they will become a wellrounded, happy and trustworthy dog.

Alot of dogs Mark has helped at the SPCA have missed out on this critical formative period. However, he stresses there is still hope.

SPCA rescue and driving dog Monty was suffering from many behavioural issues when Mark first met him. “Little did we know that underlying Monty’s mischievous face was a complex bundle of issues masking his real talent,” says Mark. “With love and therapy, he has become an intelligent, fun-loving dog. Joy and love ooze from every pore and his karate-like tail is in constant wag motion.”

In order to solve any behavioural issues that might have formed as a result of missing the formative period, you need to take an adult dog back to the start and re-establish their foundations, Mark says. “This involves understanding what a dog’s learning state is, and how to switch it on. It is very likely that your dog is not in a learning state when they are exhibiting problems.” A ‘learning state’ is when the dog is relaxed, focused and able to learn. They are not in a flight-fright state so are able to process the information you are trying to communicate. Signs that indicate your dog is in a learning state include attention to you, eye contact and – the most easily recognised one – taking training treats. Dogs in a nonlearning state usually have dilated pupils, are panting, show behaviour issues like fearfulness, aggression and hyperactivity, and are outwardly focused or distracted."

“By understanding when your dog is learning, you will be able to understand the most effective time to quickly teach your dog new behaviours or correct undesirable ones,” says Mark.

Mark's 'big idea'

The goal for Mark’s new book, Dog Zen, is to fulfil what he calls his ‘big idea’ – a 10-year vision to eliminate dog behaviour problems in the community. In order to achieve this goal, Mark wants New Zealanders to understand the fundamental importance of the formative period in the puppy’s life and the need for a harmonious bond built on a shared language between dog and owner.

“Dogs have their own culture and ways of communicating; they don’t understand our language until we teach them,” Mark explains. “There are many things in the human world that dogs don’t understand, such as cars are dangerous or aggression is inappropriate. Having a shared language is critical to enable us to articulate to our dogs what it is we want from them, and how we will keep them safe.”

But this shared language also involves understanding how your dog is communicating to you – for example, what their postures and gestures mean, and what it means to both us and them. “It’s our responsibility as the owner to develop this wonderful repertoire with our dog. We need to understand the way they perceive things so we can adjust the way we communicate,” says Mark.

In Dog Zen, Mark says the first and most important stage in building a harmonious bond with a dog is ‘joining up,’ which is one of his primary signature techniques that he has developed over the last 40 years. It’s based on the innate ‘follower response’ where the pup naturally follows the mother and helpers in the pack, and is the basis of establishing this critical bond. It can also help re-establish this harmonious bond in an adult dog that might have missed this in their formative period. “Building a harmonious bond, forming a shared language, and understanding how dogs learn will enable you to communicate with your dog in a way they can understand, and guide them through life as their mentor,” says Mark.

What's next?

Mark will continue to pursue his big idea of elimintating dog aggression. He continues to work with the SPCA and local councils to help educate the community, assist rescue dogs to adjust from their past, both in the shelter and in their new home, and make sure consistent training methods are being used across the country. “Approximately 80% of aggression stems from lack of socialisation in the formative period. We are trying to get the essence of this big idea out there, and to get everyone invested in it,” says Mark. “To truly love our dogs, we need to understand them.”


Protect your animals from second-hand smoke


As part of World Smokefree Day on 31 May, the SPCA is calling for pet owners to learn about, and act to reduce, the health impacts of second-hand smoke on animals.

The SPCA’s CEO Andrea Midgen says people might not realise smoking causes serious harm to pets. It has been proven that second-hand smoke increases health risks to pets and has been associated with cancers and respiratory infections, similar to the effect on humans. Studies have shown that exposure to tobacco and second-hand smoke has been associated with certain cancers in dogs and cats, as well as eye, skin and respiratory diseases in birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, lizards and amphibians. It has also been proven to affect fish as the pollutants from smoke are absorbed into their water and can harm the fish.

“The best thing you can do to protect your family and pets from second-hand smoke and reduce your own risk of harm is to stop smoking altogether. If you’re still working through the process of quitting, don’t smoke around your pets, inside or outside. Keep both your home and car smokefree to reduce the risk of cancers and serious smoke-related health problems for your family and pets,” says Ms Midgen.

Effects of second-hand smoke on cats:

Cats lick themselves when grooming and this causes them to ingest dangerous carcinogens from smoke that are absorbed by their fur. This can lead to oral cancer and lymphoma.

Cats in households with second-hand smoke exposure are almost 2.5 times more likely to develop malignant lymphoma as cats with no exposure. The risk increases to 3.2 times more likely in cats exposed for five or more years.

Effects of second-hand smoke on dogs:

Dogs exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer from a range of diseases, including nasal cancer, lung cancer, asthma and bronchitis, than non-exposed dogs. The shape of a dog’s head plays a role in the types of cancer most likely to develop. Long-muzzled dogs, such as collies, are 250 per cent more likely to develop nasal cancer, since their nasal passages have more surface area on which the toxins can accumulate. Breeds with short muzzles are more likely to develop lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

For more information on World Smokefree Day and resources to help you quit smoking, visit

Preparing your pets for winter


Time is rushing by, and before we know it, winter will be here.

Now is the time to plan ahead to make sure your pets will be comfortable, well fed and happy during the long cold winter months. Read on for our top tips. Dogs All animals need extra shelter and extra feed in winter, especially older animals. Good covers or coats are advisable when exercising older dogs, especially if they are shorthaired or thin-skinned. Ideally, dogs should be able to come inside where it is warm and sheltered in the winter. If dogs are outside, they should always have access to a warm and weatherproof kennel. Use extra bedding in the kennel and change it frequently enough to make sure it is always dry and fresh. Block draughts and fix leaks, put the kennel in a sunny, dry, sheltered area facing away from the prevailing wind, and place it so that there is an interesting outlook. Check that your dog will always have ready access to a bowlful of clean fresh water that will not freeze.


Cats are pretty good at finding sheltered places to sleep, so make sure they can always access a comfortable indoor area. Check cat flaps to make sure they are working properly. Cat beds, such as igloos that give the cat a safe and warm space to snuggle into, are great in the winter time. Cats that are not on special feeding regimes, such as a weightloss diet or specific health-related eating plan, should have food available at all times, especially in winter because they like to ‘snack’ at regular intervals during the day. Cats on special feeding regimes should be kept on their specific diet with advice from their veterinarian. It is important that they also have access to fresh clean water and that this does not freeze. If your cat isn’t already desexed, make an appointment with your vet to have this done well before the next main breeding season in spring.

Older pets

Many older animals suffer from arthritis and other conditions which may cause them to struggle in the winter. Check with your veterinarian to see what can be done to help them cope better with the winter weather.

Caged birds

Make sure your bird cage has a sunny draught-free corner of a room with an interesting outlook. Birds living in aviary should ideally be moved inside. It is important that a temperature appropriate to the species of bird is always maintained in the area where the birds are housed. The birds must not be exposed to wet, draughty or damp conditions, as this can cause them to get sick and also be very uncomfortable and miserable. Access to adequate quantities of good-quality species-appropriate food should be available to birds at all times, and it is important that they also have access to fresh clean water and that this does not freeze.


Plan now to make sure your livestock are comfortable and well fed in the winter. During the colder months, it is vital that livestock have access to good-quality shelter that is warm, protected from the wind, and adequately sized so that all the animals can fit into the shelter if needed. It is important that the animals can always access the shelter (i.e. that access will not be compromised by boggy ground or water) and that adequate bedding, food and water are available to them in the shelter. In cold weather, livestock use much more energy to maintain body warmth, so they need extra food. Ensuring a good supply of high-roughage food such as hay is important for all grazing animals (see opposite). This is important not just for nutritional needs, but because internal heat is generated by the process of digesting food, particularly food with a high roughage content. Make sure that the animals always have access to clean fresh water that is not frozen.

Covers for horses

A waterproof and insulated cover or horse rug helps prevent heat loss and keeps your horse or pony dry and warm. A cover is particularly important for horses and ponies that are groomed frequently (this removes hair and grease that can help insulate them) and horses that are thin-skinned (like thoroughbreds and their crosses) or clipped. Covers are advisable for all older horses. Make sure that the cover fits comfortably, and check frequently for damage that may make the cover unsafe and for chafing of the horse’s coat and skin under the cover, especially over the withers, chest and between the hind legs. Covers should be waterproof, otherwise the skin beneath becomes damp, and this is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that cause nasty skin infections.

How much hay?

As a rough guide for all grazing animals, if good-quality meadow hay is their only source of feed, each animal needs about 2% of its body weight in an equivalent weight of hay every day. One small hay bale weighs about 20–25 kg.

As an approximate guide:

  • Horses need 8–12 kg of hay daily, plus hard feed if pregnant, working or growing
  • Ponies need 4–8 kg of hay daily
  • Sheep and goats each need about 1.5 kg of hay daily. Spread out the feed, allowing enough space at feeders so that all animals can access the food without other animals bullying them. Using a hay box or a rack helps prevent wastage. Don’t feed old or mouldy hay to livestock.