Keeping your pet safe in the dark

We humans are probably not looking forward to the shorter days of autumn and winter. For many people this often means getting up in the dark and coming home in the dark too. It can have implications for our pets as well, so now is a good time to review what we can do to keep our pets safe in the dark.

Think bunnies

If you brought home a new rabbit this year and they have been living outside this summer, you need to think about what to do as the nights draw in. Wild rabbits spend a lot of the day down a burrow or under foliage and not in bright light. Rabbits will get stressed, inactive, and overweight if they are forced to live with excessive amounts of light.  Naturally their activity increases at dusk and dawn when they will come out to forage and, in turn their predators have also evolved to be around at that time too.  Indoor and outdoor rabbits therefore have different needs:

  • If you have been keeping your rabbit outdoors during the summer and want to bring them in for the winter, do it gradually so that they don’t get stressed with the change.
  • Remember your rabbit will need to have somewhere dark to hide and you should also be aware that they will exercise more in the half light, than in bright light or complete darkness.
  • If your rabbit lives outdoors and has a run, be aware that dark cold nights will mean predators may be on the prowl as food becomes scarcer.
  • Repair any wire and make sure bunny can’t dig out, and predators can’t dig in.
  • Think about shutting them in at night, but only if their accommodation is big enough for them to run and jump in. (Garden sheds make ideal, safe, warm bunny houses)

Walkies in the dark

We lead busy lives and inevitably we are going to have to walk our dogs in the dark over the next few months. Here are a few tips to help keep you and your canine friend safe:

  • Wherever you walk, carry a torch or wear a headlamp which leaves your hands free.
  • Wear light coloured clothing and wear a reflective sash so that vehicles can see you.
  • You can buy all kinds of reflective clothing for your dog, including collars, leads and coats.
  • Consider using an LED collar which you can switch on, or a light which attaches to the collar. If you intend to let your dog off the lead, this is essential.
  • Consider not letting your dog off the lead, unless they are very obedient and reliable.
  • Remember that your dog's night vision whilst impaired, is still better than yours and they may just take off after a rabbit and get lost or become involved in a road traffic accident.
  • Also be aware that your dog may get scared by things that they are familiar with in the light. They may growl at other people or dogs as they will feel more vulnerable and therefore act defensively.
  • You can use other means to exercise your dog, apart from walking them. Why not teach them some new tricks or play games with them indoors.

How to get your cat in

Cats are nocturnal creatures and many enjoy being outside at night and are perfectly capable of looking after themselves. They have superior eyesight to us in the semi-dark and are very well adapted for hunting at dusk and dawn. The half-light allows them to be less easily seen by their prey.  It is therefore quite difficult sometimes to get them to come in when we want! If you and your cat are both happy with this, then this is probably the least stressful solution. However it is a fact that more road accidents and fights happen in the dark hours.  If they are used to wearing a collar then you could consider getting them a reflective collar which can be seen by motor vehicles.

If you want your cat to start coming in before we get too far into the dark nights then it’s a good idea to start training them now. Remember, if your moggy goes out at all, make sure their microchip is working. Ask your vet to check it at your next visit.

  • Do not feed your cat before you let them out. If they are hungry they will hopefully stay nearby.
  • When you want them to come in, call them and encourage by shaking the food box. Feed them immediately when they arrive with a favourite food.
  • Keep repeating this exercise, so that they associate coming in/ to you with a reward.
  • Once they are coming in well, a good tip is to replace calling their name or shaking the food box by using a hand bell, as the sound carries a lot further than a voice and doesn’t appear to be frightening.
  • Try it – cats are easier to train than you might think!

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