Winter is coming
As the nights start drawing in, it is increasingly difficult to fit dog walks into daylight hours. Both cats and dogs are more at risk of being hit by cars during the winter months, so it is wise to take some measures to help keep everyone safe.
Walking your dog at night
When dog walking, it is a good idea to wear Hi-Viz reflective clothing and to use lights, especially if you are not walking in a well-lit area. A torch is very useful - both to help you be seen and to help with picking up after your dog. A head torch is easiest to use as it allows you to be hands free for the lead, treats, and poop bags. There are also many reflective/Hi-Viz coats and collars for dogs, as well as lights which clip on to their collars or harnesses. Before heading out into the dark, get your dog accustomed to seeing you in your new gear and to any additional kit you may be asking them to wear. You might find your dog is not as confident walking in the dark and may be startled by noises which wouldn’t usually bother him. Take toys and treats and play games on your walk to keep him focussed on you.
Advice for your cats
Reflective cat collars are available but can often be masked by thick or long coats. It is safer to persuade your cat to come in before dusk and to keep her in until dawn. Some cat flaps have timer functions or similar functionality to allow you to set ‘in only’ to help you achieve this. Ensure your cat’s needs are still met by replacing outside playtime with indoor games. Perennial favourites include treat balls, puzzle boxes, laser pointers and fishing rod toys.
Indoor or back garden play can also make up for shorter winter walks for dogs. On a dry evening, try scattering your dog’s food on the lawn and let him sniffle about for it. Indoors, think about clicker training with a new trick, and make use of puzzle feeders and snuffle mats.
Vets see more cases of ethylene glycol poisoning in the winter as people top up cars with anti-freeze. Ethylene glycol causes fatal kidney failure unless treated early. Some non-toxic alternatives are now available, but care should still be taken to store chemicals properly and to clean up any spills. Puddles may also be contaminated with road salt (spread in case of ice) so try to prevent your dog drinking from them on walks. Don’t forget to wipe your dog’s paws after walks to remove any road salt, and if they become sore and cracked apply some paw wax (available from pet shops).
Remember that fireworks often continue throughout the winter months. Try to avoid dog walking after dusk if you know fireworks are planned nearby, and make sure you use a well-fitting collar or harness. Make sure your pet’s identity tag is easy to read, and that their microchip is working and registered with up to date contact details - just in case.