14/12/2018 06:00 GMT | Updated 14/12/2018 06:00 GMT

Don't Buy A Kitten Or Puppy – And 8 Other Ways To Help Animals This Winter

HumanKind Advent Calendar 2018: Our furry and feathered friends need help too.

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We’ve helped you find gifts that give back to the homeless community, eco-friendly presents and a selection of places you can volunteer over Christmas. Now we’re turning the focus to those who can’t necessarily ask for help, but still desperately need it.

Winter can be a tough time for animals: wild birds and mammals face food and water shortages, while domestic animals face their own set of difficulties, including being abandoned in shelters after being purchased for Christmas.

If you want to help animals this winter (and who wouldn’t?), here’s a list of nine ways to give back.

1. Feed The Birds

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As the weather cools it becomes really difficult for birds to find normal food –which is where you come in. Leaving out some extra food (out of reach of cats and foxes) will help our feathered friends survive the winter.

The RSPCA recommends giving birds seeds and grains (like nyjer, millet, oats, and sunflower seeds). Only feed peanuts if they’re unsalted, fresh and sold for human consumption or by a reputable feed shop. And make sure you use mesh feeders to protect baby birds from choking.

Net-free fat or suet balls attract a wide range of species, providing a great boost of calories, the animal charity suggests. And over-ripe fruits that you’re not going to eat such as apples, pears and soft fruits are also great for their hungry tummies.

2. Buy Food For Homeless Pets

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It’s not something you’d usually think about but thousands of animals and their owners will struggle this winter because they’ll be living on the streets in the bitter cold. 

So next time you pass a homeless person with a pet, why not provide food for both parties? A tin of dog food will often be gratefully received, as well as a sandwich or other item for their owner – although it’s always nice to ask what they’d like.

If you can spare extra blankets, toys or treats then that would really make their Christmas.

3. Donate To Animal Shelters

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You can donate to charity in more ways than one. A lot of animal charities are looking for monetary donations over the winter period but shelters in particular also often need things like spare blankets, towels, newspapers and pet toys to help keep costs down.

The RSPCA is asking the public to support its Kindness at Christmas campaign. If you would like to donate, please visit www.rspca.org.uk/giftofkindness.

4. Volunteer

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Again, an obvious choice, but many shelters will be short-staffed over the Christmas break (as full-time staff will want to take some time off) so it’s definitely worth signing up to volunteer if you’ve got time to do it.

The RSPCA, Cats Protection and Blue Cross are just some of the national charities you can offer your time and services to, although it’s certainly worth searching for smaller, local charities in your area.

5. Leave Fresh Water For Wildlife 

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During winter, especially when it’s below zero degrees and ponds and puddles ice over, birds and squirrels can find it tricky to access fresh water to drink.

If you’re able to, buy a bird bath and fill it with fresh water – ensuring you clean it daily to avoid the transmission of common diseases among birds. Failing that, fill an old bowl with some fresh tap water and pop it outside. Make sure the water is clean, and place receptacles away from bushes and other areas where predators might hide.

6. Let Your Garden Grow Wild

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Let’s face it, come autumn most of us don’t step foot in our gardens unless we really have to. The RSPCA wants you to leave it to become overgrown (great news if you’re not a fan of mowing the lawn) as piles of leaves or brushwood can make the perfect nest in which animals can hide, rest and hibernate.

7. Defrost Your Pond

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When ponds freeze over, toxic gases can build up and kill fish and frogs. So, if you’re lucky enough to own a pond, check it every day for ice – if it freezes over, carefully place a saucepan of hot water on the surface, and melt a hole. A word of warning: never tip boiling water onto the icy surface or break the ice with force, as you may harm the pond’s inhabitants.

8. Adopt Don’t Shop 

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‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.’ The famous Dog’s Trust slogan is worth remembering if you’re considering buying a puppy or kitten for a loved one.

It’s no secret that animal shelters are inundated with unwanted pets come January. In fact, last year they began to receive pets as early as November. If you’re looking to give a dog or cat (or any other animal, for that matter) a home then please consider adopting from animal shelters, of which there are plenty dotted across the UK.

9. Sign Up To Cat-Sit

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Over Christmas, plenty of pet owners travel and take their cats with them or put them in boarding kennels. But actually, this causes cats a large amount of stress and animal charities recommend that cats stay well put.

To help someone else’s animals feel less stressed this winter – and to give you the opportunity to spend all of the time with someone else’s cat (without the full-time commitment) – sign up to become a cat-sitter. You can do this through sites like Cat In A Flat or offer your services on NextDoor.co.uk.

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