Help your pets avoid these unexpected autumn hazards
From toxic conkers to irritating harvest mites, fungus-filled leaf mould to disease-carrying ticks, not to mention the dangers of antifreeze and rock salt on roads and pavements, make sure you know how to keep your furry best friends safe from harm.
Autumn can be a gorgeous time of year to enjoy mellow sunlit walks through the crunchy leaves or playtime in the garden. However, this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness also means there are all sorts of unexpected hazards that could harm your much-loved pets. But forewarned is forearmed. We’ve lots of great advice and top tips to help you, and your pets, stay safe.
Vet charity PDSA advises: “As with any change of season, there’s lots of things we need to do to keep our pets safe and healthy during the autumnal months.”
Beware the foul fruits of autumn
During the autumn, the unpicked fruit of apple trees, plum trees and sloe bushes will plop to the ground and ferment. If your pet nibbles on dropped fruit, they’re likely to succumb to sickness and diarrhoea. They may even have a toxic reaction to the alcohol produced by the fruit as part of its fermentation process.
The mulchy, compost-like substance that piles of fallen leaves turn into as they rot may be loved by the likes of Monty Don and Charlie Dimmock – but canine guardians beware. Many dogs love to leap about in fallen leaves, but to protect them, always clean them off afterwards. Leaf mould is packed with a toxic mix of bacteria and fungus which, if ingested by your pet, can lead to rather nasty stomach upsets.
The change in seasons can bring on skin conditions, breathing issues, aching joints and allergies, make sure you are carefully monitoring your pets’ health. If you notice any unusual changes seek veterinary advice.
If you’re a pet owner, it’s best to resist the temptation of putting a handful of shiny, brown conkers in your pocket. While poisoning is rare, chewing and ingesting conkers can make a dog seriously ill. The cause is a chemical called aesculin, which is found in all parts of the horse chestnut tree, including the leaves.
Conkers can also cause blockages in your dog’s stomach. Signs of illness may occur within one to six hours or may take a couple of days. Poisoned animals may vomit and have diarrhoea, become very restless due to pain, collapse and become severely dehydrated. If your dog begins to exhibit any of symptoms of being unwell, take them straight to your vet. They will need to be rehydrated and medicated and, if there’s a blockage, surgery may be required.
Conkers are toxic to all pets, so remove any that fall in areas explored by your rabbits, guinea pigs or ferrets.
Some cats get a lot less exercise in these colder months as they don’t go outside so much. Do make sure you adjust their food intake accordingly to avoid them gaining too much weight.
The humble acorn, which falls from oak trees between September and November, may be a staple food for squirrels and wild birds, but these cute, cupped oaknuts are toxic to dogs. So, when on autumn walks, keep a close eye on your canine chum snuffling through fallen leaves to make sure they’re not chewing on something they shouldn’t. Always take a suitable dog toy or some treats out with you to distract them. Also remove any acorns that end up in the vicinity of your rabbits, guinea pigs or ferrets.
MUSHROOMS AND TOADSTOOLS
Some mushrooms are highly toxic to dogs but even fungi experts (mycologists) find it really tricky to tell between them. The best bet is to ensure you keep all of them well out of your dog’s reach.
Watch out for pesky parasites and deadly diseases
Flea infestations tend to increase during autumn, reaching a peak when the boiler gets fired up to turn on the central heating on. Make sure to use ask your vet about appropriate flea control and regularly check your pet’s coat.
Always check your dog’s skin for pea-sized ticks after a walk. Ticks can carry dangerous infections such as Lyme disease, which requires immediate veterinary treatment and can also infect humans. They’re most commonly found on your pet’s head and neck, around their ears, in whiskers, or on their legs after walks in long grass, particularly near livestock. Ticks can be removed using a special tick removal device, available from your vet or pet shop. Slide it under the tick and turn anticlockwise. Do not pull. Be careful to remove the whole tick, including legs or mouthparts. If you’re unsure about removing it correctly, your vet will be able to do it for you. Better still, ask your vet about products to keep dogs safe from tick- borne diseases.
Even with the darker mornings and nights and the worsening weather, your dog still needs regular exercise. However, if your dog is getting less exercise during the week, his fitness levels will not be as high as in the summer, so don’t go crazy with exercise at the weekends as he or she could experience health problems. Remember that if your dog is getting less overall exercise that you adjust their food intake so he or she doesn’t gain weight.
These tiny red mites make an appearance at the start of autumn in long grass and in woods, where dogs and cats can easily pick them up. Once these malicious mites get onto your pet’s coat, they latch on to the skin and become itchy and irritating, causing your pet to scratch themselves raw. Bad cases of harvest mites can lead to lesions on the skin that are at risk of becoming infected. Check your pet regularly and wash any mites off them. Areas most affected are where there is a thin covering of hair, such as around the eyes, ears and nose, between the toes, and belly.
The lungworm larvae is carried by slugs and snails. Dogs can become infected if they consume slugs and snails deliberately, or by accident, for example when eating grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking up toys left outside as the larvae can be left in the slugs and snails slime trail. Unlike many diseases, lungworm cannot be passed from dog to dog.
Untreated, lungworm can be fatal, but if it’s caught early enough, most dogs will make a full recovery. Prevention is always better than cure and you can safeguard against lungworm with a regular monthly worming regime. However, be aware that not all worming treatments are effective against lungworm, so talk to your vet about the most suitable product.
In early autumn, be cautious of blue-green algae (or ‘cyanobacteria’) – a type of bacteria, most commonly found in stagnant water which forms a green scum on the surface of water. If swallowed, it can cause organ damage and potentially death. Your dog is at risk of blue green algae poisoning if they swim in or drink contaminated water.
PDSA advises: “Blue-green algae is highly toxic to pets and can quickly become fatal, so if you see a blue-green layer on any body of water, avoid it entirely. Muddy, stagnant puddles or ponds can also give your pet a stomach upset, so it’s best to avoid these too. Don’t forget that your pet may still get warm during the sunny autumn days, so remember to bring clean, fresh water for your pup to drink – this will avoid the temptation of any water they shouldn’t drink.”
Also called Weil's disease, this is an infection spread through wild rat urine and contaminated water. Avoid stagnant water and canals – but if a canal or river walk is part of your routine, ask your vet about a vaccination to protect your dog against leptospirosis and make sure all their boosters are up to date.
If you are walking your dog early in the morning or after work, invest in a reflective vest or jacket for yourself and even a reflective collar and lead for your dog. If you take your dog to a safe area where he can run off lead, you can purchase small flashing lights that are attached to the dog’s collar so you can see where he is. Also buy a good quality torch with a good range or a ‘headlight’ which keeps you ‘hands free’.
SEASONAL CANINE ILLNESS
Cases of this mystery illness, known as seasonal canine illness (SCI), are generally seen between August and November. SCI can affect dogs of any size, shape or sex and it causes dogs to become very ill, very quickly after being walked in woodland. The most common clinical signs are sickness, diarrhoea and lethargy, typically experienced within 72 hours of walking in woodland. If you suspect your dog is showing signs of SCI, then contact your vet immediately.
Left untreated, it can be fatal, so It’s better to be safe than sorry. if you suspect your dog has SCI, contact your vet immediately. Some of the symptoms can be alleviated, which means that if your dog receives vet attention quickly, in most cases, they will make a full recovery.
This deadly disease – also known as CRGV (cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy) causes small clots in blood vessels, which eventually result in skin ulcers, tissue damage and can lead to acute kidney failure. The condition first emerged in Greyhounds in Alabama, USA, hence the name. How it arrived in the UK is still a mystery – as is how it spreads, why only some dogs get it, or how to treat it effectively. Symptoms tend to appear in dogs who have been walked in wet, muddy areas.
Dogs affected by CRGV typically present with a skin ulcer on their legs or paws, although some dogs have shown ulcers on their head, muzzle, tongue, flank and belly. Other signs to be concerned about include lethargy, decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting, increased thirst or decreased urination. If your dog develops an unexpected skin ulcer, seek immediate veterinary attention as early intervention can help save their life.
If your cat continues to go outdoors during the colder months, make sure they don’t stay out for too long, especially when temperature dips below freezing. Frostbite is most common on the ears, tail and pads of the feet and looks pale, glossy or white. If you suspect your cat has frostbite, take them straight to the vet.
Hoot your horn or bang the bonnet before starting your car as cats have a tendency to curl up on the tyre or near the engine.
Keep your pets safe from chemical hazards
ANTIFREEZE AND SCREENWASH
Cars being prepared for winter means the antifreeze and windscreen wiper fluid out gets whipped out from the back of the shed, which is bad news for pets. Antifreeze is extremely toxic to animals and, if ingested, will lead to rapid onset poisoning, which is often fatal. Antifreeze is especially dangerous because it smells and tastes sweet, which attracts dogs and cats to lick it. So, keep this lethal liquid well away from pets and thoroughly clean up any drips or spills immediately.
When temperatures plummet and roads start to get icy, out roll the gritters, loaded up with rock salt. This is a mixture of salt (sodium chloride) and grit and can be a danger to pets if they lick it from their paws or fur because they find it irritating. Ingestion can result in a high blood sodium concentration, which can cause thirst, vomiting and lethargy. In severe cases, there is a risk of convulsions and kidney damage.
Protect your pets by thoroughly wiping their feet, legs and tummy after a walk or time outside in icy weather. Any animal suspected of ingestion of rock salt must be seen by a vet immediately as signs can be non-specific and Immediate treatment will be needed to rehydrate the animal and stabilise their sodium levels.
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