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Helping your pet stay supple this winter

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

Winter can be tough on our pets, particularly older animals with creaky joints. Like us, cold weather can cause stiffness so as an owner, the more we can do to keep them warm and comfortable, the happier they will be.

Keeping your dog toasty this winter

  1. Pop a jacket on during walks - Particularly for older or short hair dogs. Keeping the body warm is most important.

  2. Hotties - a warm hottie wrapped in a towel can soothe creaky joints. Be careful not to overheat, if its too hot for you than its certainly too hot for your dog; aim for just warm.

  3. Provide a comfy bed - also important for dogs kept outdoors, a comfy bed tempts them away from sleeping on cold floors tiles.

  4. Close off draughts - Draughts suck away body heat.

  5. Keep them moving - We all like to hibernate but keeping our joints moving is best. If you're around, see if you can get them up and moving little and often.

  6. Avoid clipping dogs during the winter months.

  7. Keep them dry - Some dogs love outdoor swimming regardless of the weather! Cold water can be dangerous in itself, but it is also important to dry them quickly afterward swimming to ensure they don't become too cold. Using a towel to rub down or popping on a towelling robe are great ways to get them dry!

Keeping your horse supple in colder months

  1. Stable movement - If stabled, regular movement/walks out the stable helps joint mobility and reduces puffy legs.

  2. Field movement - Try keeping the water and hay/food at opposite ends of the field; this way they have to walk to get what they need.

  3. Food accessibility - Keep the mind and neck active by feeding at different heights or by hanging swinging treat kebabs up in the stable.

  4. Rugging - Horses are pretty good at keeping warm but elders and those who are clipped, may need rugging to help keep the heat in. For wet horses, apply a thermotex or fleece rug to keep the horse warm during drying.

  5. Bedding - A nice deep bed to keep them off cold concrete stable/barn floors not only cushion joints but also trap body heat.

  6. Warming warm ups - A good, long warm up will prevent soft tissue injury; tissues become stretchy as they warm.

  7. Quarter sheets - consider riding with fleece quarter sheets to keep the hindquarters warm, or use a waterproof one to keep the horse dry during wetter weather.

  8. Hot clothing - try hot clothing your horse on cold days instead of bathing. This keeps the horse drier but is still very effective at removing grease and dirt from the coat.

The key things to consider during the winter months are mobility and warmth. Both elements work hand in hand; being mobile maintains joint and tissue health, stimulating circulation and generating internal heat, meanwhile warmth prevents joints from stiffening up which can negatively influence an animals mobility.

These factors are equally important in other animals however care changes can be very species specific. For example, an unclipped alpaca will not need an insulating rug due to the climates they originate from, and hotties may be unpractical in a commercial farm setting. Instead, consider their environments and daily habits.

Bedding - Plenty of bedding substrate will cushion joints and reduce heat loss to cold floors.

Feeding - Changing feeding regimes can be difficult but varying heights or locations of food can encourage more movement. In ruminants and hind gut fermenters, forage is a major generator of internal heat, therefore increased or adlib forage will help to keep your animals toasty this winter.

Shelter - Either constructed or natural shelter (such as trees) are important for outdoor kept animals to escape the harsh winter elements. Also consider the ground of these areas; very wet ground in places they may spend a lot of time may increase the risk of bacterial and mud related foot conditions.

In some cases, management changes may be unfeasible. Aside from feeding, there are certain feed supplements that could be added to ease the effects of the cold winter weather, but these would be best discussed with a nutritionist.

As spring approaches, some changes may become more feasible. Animals may be living or spending more time outside as the ground begins to dry or their level of activity increases. Keeping in regular contact with a veterinary physiotherapist who can advise and adjust ongoing suitable and manageable changes could improve your overall animal mobility health as temperatures begin to rise. This will enable you and your horse, dog or animal to get the most out of summer activity and it will enhance competitive success in sporting animals by bridging the mobility gap more fluidly.

There are plenty of things we can do as owners for our animals and often practices for our animals vary from season to season. At each stage of the year, it is important to assess our animals level of activity, feeding regimes, management strategies and more to optimise the care and welfare of our animals, for example, when activity is low, feed should be adjusted accordingly to avoid excessive weight gain.

We as physiotherapists can help you with this. We can assess, advise strategies and provide physiotherapy to actively to stimulating tissues, all helping to mitigate some of the negative effects that winter can bring, like stiffer joints. For further management tips or physiotherapeutic advice, feel free to contact us. Likewise, we would love to hear your winter strategies too!

Trudie (Herriot Vet Physio)

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