From kennel cough and freezing cars, to staying sun smart or adjusting indoor heating, winter poses several risks to our four-legged friends, some of which aren't commonly known amongst pet owners.
PETstock vet Natalia Li says it's critical that pet owners prepare themselves, their household and their pets as we head into the cooler months to help keep our buddies safe.
"Ensuring your pet has the correct bedding, coat and general care will keep them comfortable throughout winter and reduce their risk of suffering from winter related illnesses, injuries or diseases," said Dr Natalia.
Weather and travel safety
Whether you're camping or hiking through the great outdoors, remember to always pack winter essentials to help keep your buddy safe. Items in your pack should include a portable water bowl, a spare waterproof coat, first aid kit and a towel.
If your pet is exposed to cold and wet conditions, they may be at risk of developing hypothermia.
Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, lethargy, stiff muscles, stumbling or lack of coordination, collapsing or a low heart rate. When exploring in wet weather, monitor your pet closely for any of these symptoms.
If you're heading on a snow adventure, monitor your pet for signs of frostbite, especially in pets that haven't previously experienced a snowy climate. Pack a sweater or coat, even if your pet is a fluffy breed, as years of domestication may reduce their resilience to the elements. It's also essential to fit them for snow or regular boots before heading to the snow as their paw pads can be incredibly sensitive to freezing grounds if their breed type isn't built for it.
Leaving pets in the car
We all know the dangers of leaving pets in cars during summer but leaving pets in cars for an extended period during winter can also be detrimental to their health.
Breeds with thicker coats such as Huskies, Saint Bernard's, or Golden Retrievers are built to withstand cooler climates. Whereas French Bulldogs, Dachshunds or Greyhounds are less protected due to their thin coat and are more likely to become hypothermic.
Just like humans, dogs are more prone to sicknesses in the cooler months. Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis, more commonly known as kennel cough, is a highly infectious respiratory disease that is often spread through boarding facilities, dog parks or other areas where dogs are exposed to one another. Symptoms of kennel cough include goose-like honking noises or consistent sounds of choking or gagging.
Kennel cough is treated through cough medication and sometimes antibiotics in more serious cases. It is more commonly found in unvaccinated puppies under the age of six months, however fully vaccinated dogs can still get kennel cough in high-risk areas or if they are immunocompromised. The purpose of the vaccine is to dramatically reduce their symptoms if they contract it. If your pet develops symptoms, seek medical advice immediately.
Staying sun smart
Even during winter pets are exposed to the sun, which can lead to sunburn or harmful sun induced skin diseases or cancer. Pet owners should carry pet-friendly sunscreen on all daily walks during winter, especially for breeds with light coloured or thin coats that are more susceptible to the sun. Pet owners should apply sunscreen regularly to exposed areas and use a winter jacket for added protection.
Indoor heaters and fireplaces
If you have a safe heating system, remember to keep it on a mild temperature when leaving your home so that your pet doesn't suffer from heat exhaustion in your absence. If you regularly use a fireplace during winter, ensure the iron guard is placed over the fireplace when your pet is indoors.
Candles also pose a risk to pets, especially for curious cats or inquisitive dogs that might be drawn to the flame or scent. Never leave your pet unattended in a room with a candle, and always remember to blow it out when leaving your home and your pet. Finally, beware of any hot wax left in a recently blown-out candle!
A pet's winter coat can hide trouble, such as lumps, bumps or sores. Whether you have a dog, cat, rabbit or guinea pig, regular brushing will help you identify fleas and prevent matting. When brushing, carefully examine your pet's skin for any unwanted illnesses. Avoid giving your pet a full trim during the winter months to help keep them warm and cosy.