As an animal lover, I always want to know exactly what I can do to help animals through the winter months. We have our own dog of course, so I’ll start there. And the good news is that these animals cope very well with winter on their own. It’s fine to take your dog out for a walk in the snow, but I do usually make sure I apply some Vaseline to Mr Bear’s paws before we go. That seals any wounds and prevents ice from getting trapped in his paws. When we get home I always dry Mr Bear well and then he finds himself a nice spot to relax by the radiator.
Cats are easy; the cold doesn’t tend to bother them much. Aunty Cat does like to be cosy though, so she usually stays inside when it’s snowing. It’s important for cats to be able to come back inside when they’ve been out in the cold for a while, so it’s a good idea to check the cat flap now and then. Another thing to bear in mind: outdoor cats look for places to shelter in the winter, like your shed or under your bonnet. So, during a harsh winter it’s always a good idea to tap your bonnet before you drive off. You don’t want to find there was a cat under there!
When the children were younger, we had two rabbits out in the garden. So we took some precautions before the winter began. When it was really freezing, we always moved the rabbits into the shed. Not inside the house, as the abrupt change from cold to warm isn’t actually good for them. If the temperature dips below zero briefly, they will be fine outside, but we always made sure they had plenty of straw to snuggle up in. It’s also important to check their drinking water every day. You don’t want it to freeze.
Some people keep their guinea pigs outside and that can work well but, during the winter months, it’s better to bring them inside. These animals need a warmer environment than rabbits do. It’s still important to make sure the change from outside to inside isn’t too sudden, so the shed can be a good interim solution. If you really want to keep your guinea pigs outside, you’ll need to make sure their hutch isn’t damp or draughty and that there’s a thick layer of bedding. If you’re bringing them inside, don’t keep them too close to the radiator, they won’t like that.
Do you keep chickens in your garden? The dream! These animals can go outside during the winter, but it’s important that they can head inside and back out again as they please. So don’t forget to check their access. It’s really important that chickens have drinking water at all times too, particularly when the temperatures are below freezing. It can actually be better to keep them inside when that happens, as their combs and wattles can freeze, which you definitely don’t want.
It‘s not just pets that need a bit of extra attention in the winter, the animals in your garden need a helping hand too. Garden birds really need your help during cold winters. If the temperatures fall below zero for several days in a row, you can make sure they don’t go hungry by providing some bird food. It’s a good idea to put water out in a plastic or ceramic bowl too. Refill it regularly. And make sure you don’t use a metal bowl, their feet can freeze to the rim.
To help hedgehogs through the winter, you need to start taking measures during the autumn. Specifically, you have to make sure to leave some mess around the garden. Hedgehogs look for sheltered places to hibernate over the winter, and piles of leaves or stacks of logs are perfect for this. We have a little hedgehog house in the garden and that works perfectly too. If you see a hedgehog in the winter, you can give it a bowl of cat biscuits (dry or wet) and a dish of water – but don’t offer milk. If you see a hedgehog right in the middle of the winter, it’s best to call an animal rescue centre, as the animal is probably very weak.
Aren’t squirrels cute? I always thought that squirrels hibernated during the winter, but it turns out that they don’t. They’re just a bit less active during the colder months, so you don’t see them as often. They usually build up a food store for themselves before winter, so they will have something to eat. If you want to help them out, you can offer them a tray of peanuts, other nuts, seeds and carob, that’s something we’ve always done. Don’t offer salted nuts, bread or milk, as these are harmful for squirrels.
All the ducks are swimming in the water…Not in winter! And the good news is that you don’t have to worry too much about ducks. They’re perfectly adapted to the water, so they know what to do in the winter. If you do want to feed the ducks, make sure you don’t give them bread. Even though lots of people do this, it’s actually not healthy for them at all. It causes them to put on weight and contains too much salt. You can feed them special food for ducks or water birds instead.
Is there a pond in your garden or somewhere nearby? In principle, there isn’t much you need to do when winter arrives. It’s a good idea to remove fallen leaves from the pond though, as these aren’t good for the animals there. It’s also best to make sure part of the pond is 80 to 120 cm deep, as this bottom layer won’t freeze and the fish can spend the winter there. Apart from that, it’s best to leave the creatures living in the water in peace. Easy!