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10 ways to keep your small pets snug and warm this winter
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10 ways to keep your small pets snug and warm this winter

1. Find out how well your outdoor pets cope with the cold

With their warm fluffy coats and thick fur pads on the bottoms of their feet, rabbits can manage colder temperatures quite well – as long as they have adequate shelter. Outdoor pet bunnies should be housed in a shed or outbuilding during the winter, with space to run about inside when it’s wet and chilly. During cold snaps, provide a couple of pet-safe heat pads that you can warm up in the microwave each evening for your pets can lie on. If your rabbits are old, thin or young and have not built up a winter coat, the RSPCA recommends moving their home indoors. Guinea pigs really don’t like the cold and need to come inside during the winter. Create a quiet, cosy space for them in a porch or utility room. You could even provide them with a Pigloo each. These are made from a durable cotton outer, a layer of wadding and a hardwearing fleece inner and are a great place for your piggies to snuggle and snooze while feeling safe, warm and comfortable. Ferrets are more actually more tolerant of cold than they are of heat, but if kept outdoors, they need to be inside a shed with a pet-safe heater to ward off the worst of the wintry chill. 


DID YOU KNOW?

Rabbits kept outdoors shed their light summer coats and grow thicker fur to protect them from the elements. Indoor bunnies don’t do this.


2. Make sure your indoor pets are cosy and safe 

Hamstersratsmicegerbilsdegus and chinchillas, may also need some extra warmth to help them through the bleak midwinter. Move their accommodation away from drafts – cold air from windows and doors can give small pets a chill. Choose somewhere secure where they can stay warm without overheating. Provide extra bedding to snuggle into on cold days – and change it regularly to keep things fresh and dry. Also protect them from toxic household fumes – all sorts of things from non-stick frying pans and aromatherapy oils to wood burning stoves produce fumes that can be harmful for small pets. 


3. Do a thorough property inspection

If your rabbits or ferrets are kept outside in a shed, make sure that it’s waterproof, draught-proof, damp-proof, dry and well-ventilated. Check the roofing felt to make sure it’s completely watertight and that all the walls are in good condition, with no water staining, which could mean rain is seeping in from under the roof. 


4. Add extra insulation

Insulate the floor with thick layers of newspaper and change this daily. Pile extra hay in sleeping areas (such as carboard boxes with entrance holes cut out) for your bunnies to snuggle up in and change bedding materials regularly to keep things fresh and dry. Don’t give rabbits blankets as chewing them could result in an intestinal blockage. Ferrets, on the other hand, tend to love fleecy blankets and sleeping sacks.


HOW COLD IS TOO COLD? 

  • A temperature of between 10-20°C as ideal for pet rabbits. Anything below 10°C is too cold for them. 
  • Guinea pigs are sensitive to temperature changes. Temperatures above 26°C can cause heatstroke and below 15°C can cause them to become chilled. They should be housed indoors, away from direct heat sources (radiators/sunny windows) and draughts. Room temperatures of 17-20°C are ideal. 
  • Ferrets need well ventilated, dry and draught free housing at a temperature of between 15-21°C. 

Source: The RSPCA


5. Make good housekeeping a top priority

Keeping things dry is essential – a damp environment in freezing weather will seriously affect your pets’ health. Wet bedding will freeze on cold nights, which could lead to your pets becoming ill. Clean the toilet area daily and their whole home regularly, at least once a week. Always replace a small amount of used, un-soiled bedding to maintain familiar scents and reduce stress. 


6. Be on constant water watch

Check water bottles several times a day to make sure the contents is not too cold or has frozen. Also check the metal spout hasn’t iced up. Wrapping water bottles in bubble wrap or an old sock can help. Access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times is essential or your pets could be coming seriously ill. Bunnies may drink more in the winter if their access to a moisture-rich grass is limited. 


7. Up the rations

Small pets may need a little more food in winter to maintain their body temperature and condition, so allow for this when serving up their daily nuggets. As fresh grass is less readily available, bunnies and piggies will require plenty of good quality feeding hay to munch on. Never feed greens or vegetables that are frosty or frozen.


8. Make time for playtime

Our small pets still need regular exercise during the winter. Find time during the warmer parts of the day to let your rabbits or ferrets have a run-around in the garden – but don’t let them get wet and cold. If there’s never ending wind and rain, allocate a room indoors (not too warm) where they can have some playtime every day. Fun-loving ferrets will appreciate some toys to play with. Rabbits and guinea pigs will enjoy foraging for treats in piles of hay and tunnels and boxes to hide in. Burgess Excel’s new Winter Berry Bakes with Cranberry will fit the bill nicely. If it snows, you can safely let your ferret out to play for around 10 minutes – many ferrets love tunnelling in the snow – but keep a close eye on them or these slinky wrigglers may well do a disappearing act. 


9. Keep a very close eye on your pets’ health

it’s really important to give your small pets a weekly health check, especially in the winter months. As with all healthcare issues, prevention is better than cure – and spotting problems early can make all the difference to your pets enjoying a speedy recovery or becoming very ill. Ferrets can’t catch a cold but they can get a form of influenza which can be passed from human to ferret and ferret to human. Healthy animals can normally fight it off, but older and younger ferrets may find it difficult to recover and should always be taken to the vet for treatment. While bunnies cannot contract a human cold, they can suffer from infections of the upper respiratory tract, causing a runny nose, runny eyes and sneezing, which is commonly called ‘snuffles’. Chinchillas are very susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections, which can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia – a condition that can be very serious for guinea pigs, too. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, discharge from the nose and eyes, a dull and depressed appearance and loss of appetite. Both gerbils and hamsters can catch a cold from humans, so if you have one, don’t handle your pets. Find out more about pets and winter illnesses here >>


10. Enjoy some special pet time every day

Interacting with their human is often a highlight of a small pet’s day and is even more important in winter when the days are short and life can get a bit boring. Keep daily feeding and exercise times consistent and schedule in some time every day for play, grooming and some extra special attention. 


If you found this interesting, you may also like: 

HOW ARE YOUR GUINEA PIGS DOING THIS WEEK? Carrying out regular checks is a great routine to get into to help your chatty rodent chums stay in the very best of health.

BONDING WITH YOUR SMALL PETS Handfeeding is a great way to build a closer bond with small animals. It takes time to build trust, but when your little friend finally feels confident enough to take a treat from your hand, it’s a special moment.

GET EVEN CLOSER TO YOUR BUNNIES Getting into the habit of carrying out regular health checks can make all the difference to the health and happiness of your beautiful bunnies, advises our in-house vet Dr Suzanne Moyes.

HOW ARE YOUR CHINCHILLAS DOING TODAY? All chinchillas should receive annual veterinary check-ups, however, as they are a prey animal, they’ll hide signs of ill-health or pain, which is why you should check them daily. We’ve a chin checklist to help you out...

BIG IDEAS FOR SMALL PETS Enriching the lives of our small animals will help them lead their best pet lives. We’ve lots of ideas for things you can introduce to keep things interesting for small furries.

MAKING HAY-TIME, PLAYTIME FOR BUNNIES Chomping on hay also does wonders for your bunnies’ emotional wellbeing. In the wild, fibrevores spend around 70% of their time foraging and eating grass and other plants. For pet rabbits, being given the opportunity to forage and chew keeps them physically and emotionally stimulated.

FERRETS IN RESIDENCE Fun-loving ferrets need exactly the right accommodation to keep them safe and happy. Find out how to create a dream home for your smart, slinky friends...

HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE A HAPPY PET With some pets, it’s pretty easy to work out if they’re happy. Dogs, for example, are such a giveaway with their wagging tails and big sloppy smiles. With other pets, signs of happiness can be rather more tricky to figure out.

 

Sources: bluecross.org.uk, rspca.org.uk, pdsa.org.uk

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