How to keep your pet healthy in winter

Winter is a good time to think about the health of your whole family - including pets.

Winter's colder, wetter weather can have an impact on your pets' well-being. Just like people, pets' tolerance of the cold can vary. Their age, coat, activity levels and health all affect their ability to stay well over winter.

Though the illnesses are different from the human variety, cats and dogs can get colds. If you think your pet has a winter illness, it's always a good idea to take them to a veterinarian.

To help avoid illness and keep your pet happy and healthy this winter, try these practical tips:

Four tips to keep your pets healthy in winter

  • Make sure they have a warm and dry place to stay
  • Keep their home and toys clean
  • Watch their weight and activity levels
  • Look out for pet winter illnesses

Make sure they have a warm and dry place to hang out

If it's cold and wet outside, make sure your pet has a warm and dry place to sleep, rest and play.

At night, when temperatures can drop dramatically, your pet should be indoors, sheltered from the elements. Most cats and dogs shouldn't be left outdoors for long periods if the average temperature is below 7°C.

Cats in particular are known for curling up to sleep under cars, which feel warm and sheltered, but could result in an accident when the car suddenly moves away.

Make a bed for your pet that's off the cold floor, away from draughty doorways and private, so that they feel safe and warm.

Keep their home and toys clean

Regularly clean your pet's food bowls, toys and blankets. This helps reduce the number of bacteria their immune system has to deal with.

A mild dish soap, followed by a very good rinse is all you need for bowls. Some toys and bowls can go in the dishwasher. Other items like beds and blankets can go in your washing machine. Avoid using strong-smelling detergents that could upset your pet's highly sensitive nose.

Outdoors toys and clothes like leads, balls and dog jackets should be kept clean and dry too.

Watch their weight and activity levels

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are particularly important in winter.

While your pet may want to eat more during winter because they're using more energy to keep warm, don't over-feed them. Weight gain can cause health problems and make some conditions worse. If they're putting on a 'winter waist', talk to your vet about their diet.

You can still take your dog for regular walks in winter. If the weather's really bad, play active games at home like tug-of-war with your dog or create an obstacle course for your cat.

Look out for winter illnesses

Despite your best efforts, winter weather can sometimes make existing health conditions worse.

If your cat or dog lives with arthritis, remember they may feel it more during winter. If your pet has diabetes, heart disease, or kidney issues, they may have a harder time staying warm too. Give them old duvets and blankets for extra warmth.

Though cats and dogs can't catch human colds or flu, there are cat and dog illnesses that have cold-like symptoms. Keep poorly pets separate from other pets, keep them warm, and hydrated and let them rest.

If your pet is coughing, sneezing, or has a runny nose or eyes, talk to your vet. There are lots of illnesses that could cause these symptoms and the treatment will be different to the treatment for human colds. Similarly, signs of hypothermia (shivering, loss of coordination and pale lips and gums) should be treated as serious - talk to your vet as soon as possible.

General pet wellness is important year-round, especially when the weather turns cold. Keep up-to-date with your pet's vaccinations and don't forget to schedule regular check-ups with your vet.