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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.