How to Care for Outdoor Pets in Winter
How do you protect outdoor pets in cold weather?
After an unusually mild December, it’s finally starting to get cold outside. As animal lovers, keeping your pets safe and warm during the colder period of winter is so important and will require you to adopt different strategies depending on the weather forecast.
Different animals have different needs in cold weather. Outdoor pets like rabbits or guinea pigs will benefit from additional bedding and water in winter months, while chickens will be grateful for extra calories to keep cosy.
Although we’re sure your animals have a cosy coop or hutch to keep them snug as a bug, if you’re concerned about your furry friends, we’re here to give you some tips about how to keep them warm during the coming cold spell.
Keeping outdoor pets safe & warm in winter
There are many measures you can take to keep your outdoor pets healthy and happy in cold winter weather.
While some owners choose to bring their pets indoors for the winter, there are a few things you’ll need to consider if that isn’t a suitable option.
Make sure that your pet is well-protected from both the elements and predators in a warm and safe environment.
If you haven't already, consider installing an outdoor thermometer to an internal wall of their hutch or coop. Check the temperature of their shelter regularly and look for any signs of discomfort.
Food and water
Make sure they have access to fresh water and are provided extra food during chilly months, as animals require additional calories to maintain body heat. Providing lukewarm water instead of cold water to drink is a good way to boost their body temperature.
Insulation like straw, hay or even blankets is also important and will help protect animals from the cold ground. You could even consider lining the walls of the hutch or coop with aluminium foil for extra protection.
Most pets still need sunlight and exercise, so make sure they have access to an outdoor space to run and play.
How can I keep my outside animals warm?
Many of us bundle up indoors, even in milder conditions, but it’s not that simple for outdoor pets. If you don’t want to keep them in all winter, it is best to leave them outside and take measures to ensure the pet doesn’t get too cold.
Some animals build up a winter coat, so if they are brought inside for the night and put out again during the day, their body could become a little confused and they may start to moult their thick coat.
Caring for your chickens in winter
Keeping backyard poultry (chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl and turkeys) is becoming more popular than ever in the UK, where winters are usually relatively mild.
Chickens are hardy birds and with a little extra care in the winter months, they do very well outdoors.
Hens will increase their feed intake in the cold, as they require additional energy to maintain body heat. We’ve got a collection of all-natural products to keep them healthy, plus a recipe for our hearty poultry porridge as an additional pick-me-up on a chilly morning.
Providing them with supplementary mixed corn in the afternoons during winter months will give them a boost of heat producing energy as they digest it overnight.
Keeping chickens in winter
In winter, it’s also important to make sure your chickens have room to roost comfortably. Check on them after dark to make sure they're all sleeping together but aren’t overcrowded.
You can also apply coconut oil or petroleum jelly to their combs and wattles prior to roosting each evening to prevent frostbite.
What temperature is too cold for chickens?
Chickens are kept outdoors in places like Canada where temperatures drop as low as -20°C, so there’s no need to be overly concerned about your flock.
Wind chill can raise the rate of heat loss from your coop. To provide a bit of extra comfort, you can cover their coop with old carpet, blankets or cardboard. Unless the temperature where you live regularly drops to below -10°C, there is no need to get your chicken coop insulated.
A thicker layer of straw or wood shavings on the floor of their coop will help keep them cosy and warm in cold temperatures.
Keeping outdoor rabbits warm in winter
So long as your pet rabbits are healthy and have a warm hutch, keeping your bunnies outdoors for the winter months shouldn't be an issue.
Domestic rabbits cope very well in colder temperatures – they actually prefer it - as long as they have adequate care and shelter.
Your rabbits’ home should be checked regularly in winter to make sure it’s waterproof, draught-proof, dry and well-ventilated.
Rabbits will usually need more water, as they won’t have access to moisture from grass or leafy greens. Giving them extra food will also ensure that you’re providing them with enough calories to endure the winter temperatures.
How much cold can rabbits tolerate?
With a well-insulated hutch, rabbits should be fine outdoors, even in near-freezing conditions. You don’t need to bring them inside unless it’s especially chilly, but placing their hutch against the side of a building can help reduce draughts and keep the hutch dry.
The hutch should also be near enough to the house so that you can keep an eye on them through a window.
Keeping guinea pigs outside in winter
For guinea pigs, it's better to keep them inside in winter, either in a conservatory or an unused garage.
If your guinea pig must stay outside, make them happy in their hutch by covering the front with an old blanket and adding plenty of extra bedding.
Pets in cold weather - how cold is too cold for pets outside?
Although it varies, when temperatures start to fall below 2°C, some cold-averse animals will get uncomfortable and will need protection.
If you can, bring your small pets inside in really bad weather or if the temperature suddenly drops. If there are any signs of illness or sudden lethargy, contact your vet immediately.