Dr. Morné de Wet (BVSc. MSc) is our June Vet of the Month. He’s the owner of and principal vet at Cottage Vet Clinic in Gordon’s Bay.

Qualifying in 2006, he has become an accomplished orthopaedic and soft tissue surgeon able to perform many advanced surgical procedures. He has a passion for preventing and managing pain in patients who cannot speak for themselves, helping them live happy and healthy lives.

He lives in Somerset West with his wife and daughter, and their three crazy pooches.

When not working, he enjoys mountain biking, travelling and is an avid miniaturist.

The signs that winter has arrived are evident all around us. The Cape is wet, snow is expected on the mountains, and we’re driving to work in the dark.

Winter can be particularly tough on pets despite their warm fur. Here’s how to keep them happy and healthy during winter.

1. Provide adequate shelter

Pets are remarkably resilient to cold temperatures. Their warm fur and the ability to curl into a tight ball enables them to withstand some pretty chilly temperatures, but extreme prolonged cold and wet (if you live in the Cape) can negatively affect their health.

It weakens their immunity, and some may even die from the cold. Shelter is imperative. Whether it is a kennel, a sheltered area around the house or, like my spoilt fur babies, your bed, a shelter that guards against the elements is essential.

It’s so important, in fact, that it is mandated in “the five freedoms” contained in the Animal Welfare Act.

2. Be careful of heaters

For those pets lucky enough to have a nice warm heater or fire to snuggle up to, it’s important to remember that they can easily burn.

Because their fur protects them from the extreme sensation of heat, they may not realise in time that they have snuggled a bit too close to the flames and can end up with burn wounds. If your pet is accidentally burned, get him to the vet as soon as possible.

Prevent burns by ensuring that they cannot get too close to the heat source, and be particularly careful of microwaveable “wheaty bags”, hot water bottles, and electric blankets.

3. Vaccinate

Winter is when we often see upper respiratory tract infections in dogs. This is commonly known as kennel cough but is more accurately called Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex.

It is caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria that affect the upper respiratory tract. This includes the nasal passages, throat, and windpipe (trachea).

Most dogs start with a harsh cough that sounds like something stuck in the throat, but they continue to eat well, are still active and do not really look sick. Some dogs can shake the illness within a few days, although veterinary treatment is recommended if the cough continues for more than 5 – 7 days. This could be combinations of anti-inflammatories, cough suppressants and, occasionally, antibiotics. Some dogs can, however, develop a more serious disease that requires aggressive treatment.

So, if Fluffy stops eating or seems to be getting worse, rather have him/her checked out as soon as possible. There are vaccines available to prevent kennel cough, which is highly advised if your pet goes to daycare, kennels, or often interacts with other dogs.

4. Protect against ticks and fleas

Tick and flea problems are often thought of as summer conditions, but this is not the case in temperate parts of the country (coastal areas). Conditions such as allergies which are associated with fleas, do not disappear over winter in these areas.

Also, tick-associated diseases such as biliary and tick bite fever (ehrlichiosis) are often diagnosed in winter, sometimes even more so as owners often stop tick and flea prevention. So, in frost-free areas, it is so important to continue tick and flea prevention year-round. Biliary can be a devastating disease, expensive to treat, and your pet may die.

It really is not worth taking the risk and stopping the tick and flea treatments. They are an investment in your pet’s health.

5. Watch for arthritis

Winter is also the time that many dogs and cats start to show signs of arthritis.

My grandfather used to say that he could feel the cold weather coming on in his bones. This was actually just a way of saying that the pain of his arthritis was getting worse.

It is well known that cold conditions exacerbate the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. So, this may be the season when you see signs of arthritis in your pets.

In dogs look out for stiffness when waking up, standing up or walking. Cats are masters at hiding their pain. If your cat is hesitating before jumping, not able to jump onto his favourite bed or bench, or stretches more than usual, those are signs of arthritis. Some cats may also repeatedly lick certain areas, such as their back legs or lower back, which is also a subtle clue. Hardly any dog or cat will whimper or whine due to pain from arthritis, even if they are incredibly sore.

There are so many things that we can do for patients with pain from arthritis. It has become a manageable condition, and pet insurance like dotsure.co.za greatly assists in managing many of these conditions because they’re covered from only R77 per month* – a price that almost every South African pet parent can afford.

Please have your pet checked by a vet to determine where the pain is coming from, what is the actual cause, and he or she will then design a treatment protocol specifically for your pet.

Although winter is the ideal time for cuddles and snuggles, some of our pets need special attention during this time. Be proactive, prevent illness and injury where you can, and keep a close eye for the first signs of pain from arthritis. In that way, we can work together to promote healthy and happy lives for our pets.