This week ahead is made harder with having to adjust to out of sync body clocks and new routines as the dreaded weekend of the clocks changing has just happened. While the thought of an hour longer in bed with no excuses brings joy for many. Those with animals know that this is just a dream as in reality you are rudely awaken by the loved household pet as their body clock has not changed! The cat wants feeding and the dog wants letting out! No extra hour in bed. I tend to agree with my friend, who hates winter; she describes it as the most unproductive time of year as the dark nights stop her doing all the things she could be doing if it was light. While I’m happy to spend an evening indoors I don’t welcome the darkness coming before I have finished work, and the thought of leaving my cosy warm beds to enter the cold darkness outside on a morning. The fashionable head torch becomes my faithful friend, that’s one thing everyone says ‘you need a bright torch’, but I choose to have my hands free after experiencing the many times I have dropped a torch in the mud or worse, and finding I don’t have enough hands free to do a job successfully. The dark nights also bring to my attention all the jobs we need to do to help keep animals safe during the winter months. Here I share some hints of wisdom I have learnt over the years. For small animals we are never quite sure what is best thing to do, where do we move the cage too? Not in a garage where you are starting a car engine as the fumes can be harmful! An out building or shed provide welcome warmth and often a place to exercise as grass seems constantly damp and often turns to mud. On days when weather allows I recommend exercise on hard standing you can add trays of grass or dig boxes for extra enrichment. When it comes to hutch insulation there are many products and special covers available, I chose the silver bubble-wrap insulation sheets which can be attached around the outside of the hutch (remember not to put anywhere where it can be nibbled). I also cover over the front with a ground sheet this stops, wind, rain and damp going through into the hutch helping to regulate the temperature. While hutches are designed with sleeping compartments we are never quite sure if our pets sleep in them; most will even if not for the whole night so make sure they have extra bedding so they can snuggle under it and make a nest. Also you want to think about water, water freezes and there nothing worse than trying to defrost a frozen drinking bottle on a morning, if possible add a water bowl even if it freezes pets can often break any ice to get a drink. Bottles can be insulated again products are available but you could use an old piece of blanket, bubble-wrap or the foam covering you put over water pipes while these all help bottles can still freeze so I recommend having a ready filled spare which is kept in a frost free place so you can swap over each morning.
While I do like a night in front of the fire, I also like to indulge in winter childhood celebrations, of Halloween and Bonfire Night however these events are often not so welcomed by those who have animals.
Halloween and Bonfire Night brings new or unwelcome experiences to many pets with scary costumes, loud noises and an unusual amount of people at the door, while it might be different this year due to Covid, it is best still be prepared. Keep lose pets inside and secure, walk dogs before dark if you can and if they need to go out at dark supervise them even if you think you have a secure garden. Where possible stay home with them, if this is not an option give them a comfortable place where they feel safe, and keep them entertained with distractions such as lick mats and treat balls which can also be used for cats. Often the first go to for many dog owners is keeping the radio or TV on, this helps to distract from noise outside and reassures pets of human company especially when they are on their own. For pets that are real stresses there are a range of products available from calming hormone collars to adaptable plug-ins for the house. Remember to keep any sweets or treats out of pets reach, the last thing we want is a trip to the vets from pets eating the sweet treats.
Chickens are hardy animals over the winter with their feathers doing the majority of the work to keep them warm. They still dislike the wind and the rain like we do, so make sure they have shelter you can cover runs with sheets over the top and down the sides, keep the coop cosy with an extra layer of bedding added to keep them warm. Feed them a warm meal on a cold morning you can just add boiling water to mash or crumb for them. They won’t complain about having to eat extra corn on an afternoon to help keep warm overnight. Bring drinkers in at night and empty to stop freezing theses can be refilled with fresh on a morning and topped up with warm water during the day. If you have a chicken with a floppy comb add a layer of Vaseline to stop frost bite. Remember other animals will be looking for foods too so don’t over feed, clean up any spillages, remove food at night. This doesn’t only apply to rodents but the risk of bird flu heightens with migrating birds also looking for extra food sources, make sure you are up to date with all the latest guidance.
It’s not only the pets we need to think about we need to think about the wildlife too. With frozen ground there is less for birds to eat so remember to keep bird feeders topped up, it is also a good idea to clean them once a week in soapy water and leaving them to dry, this helps stop the spread of disease between birds and also stops mouldy food accumulating. Remember to keep water topped up as many water sources are removed from the garden in winter. We also need to think about hedgehogs, if you are having your own bonfire try not to build it in advance, if this is not an option ensure bonfires are built on clear ground away from piles of leaves, try lifting the bonfire with a broom handle before lighting to disturb any wildlife also light the bonfire from one side to give the wildlife the chance to escape. Chicken Wire can also be placed around the bonfire if built in advance and pegged down to make it difficult for anything to enter.
While we may not look forward to the dark winter days I hope everyone manages to keep themselves and animals safe over the winter.