Autumn is many people's favorite season. From the beautiful colors of changing leaves and sweater weather to delicious hot drinks and fun holidays, it's easy to see why. But not everything is sugar and pumpkin spice about the fall season, especially for our dogs. Here are 17 fall and autumn safety tips for dogs.
Fall means temperatures are dropping and many people take this time to start winter car maintenance. That usually involves antifreeze, which is very dangerous to pets because of the toxic ingredient ethylene glycol. Many pets are attracted to the chemical because it smells sweet to them, despite being odorless to us.
Because of all this, it's important to keep antifreeze securely stored out of your dog's reach. In addition, clean up any spills or leaks immediately. For extra precautions, barricade your pet from the area of the spill or leak for several hours to ensure it's cleaned up and dry. You can also opt to use more "pet-safe" antifreeze products that contain propylene glycol. While these aren't completely nontoxic, they have a wider margin of safety. Lastly, be mindful on walks and don't let your dog drink from standing puddles. Not only are these breeding grounds for bacteria, but they could contain antifreeze that leaked from cars.
If you believe your dog has ingested antifreeze, seek vet care immediately, as damage can occur in mere hours and fatality within 36 to 72 hours. The first symptoms can show up as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion. Your dog may appear to improve 12 to 24 hours after, but they are still at risk during this time period, often experiencing dehydration and kidney damage (kidney failure can occur within 36 to 72 hours). The lesser the exposure and the faster the treatment, the better the prognosis.
Pro Tip: Bring the antifreeze package to the vet so they have more information and can better determine a treatment plan.
Check out our article on antifreeze poisoning for more information, including specific symptoms, treatment and prognosis.
2. Rat Poison Or Rodenticide
Dropping temperatures also mean rodents and other little critters look for warmer shelter, like inside our homes. Many people try to prevent this using rodenticides or rat poison. But be careful with this because they are toxic and potentially fatal to pets. Rodenticides work in different ways with some stopping blood from clotting (anticoagulants), some increasing blood calcium to dangerous levels and others affecting cells in the nervous system.
Because of this, there will be different symptoms in dogs depending on which poison is used. For example, anticoagulants will also prevent your dog's blood from clotting, causing internal bleeding as well as unusual lethargy, difficulty breathing, coughing and nose bleeds. Rodenticides that affect the nervous system can cause behavior changes, like circling repeatedly or pressing their head against a wall. Take your dog to your vet or an emergency vet immediately if they ingest rat poison.
There are nontoxic means of rodent control that are safer alternatives for pet parents. You can talk to a professional exterminator about options. Also, make sure to close any entry holes you know exist. If you must use toxic products, do so with extreme caution and make sure they are completely inaccessible to your dog.
With sweater weather back in season, that can actually bring about some dangers to our dogs with mothballs. Mothballs are small balls of pesticide used to protect clothes and upholstery from pests that are attracted to natural fibers such as wool (e.g. moths and silverfish). They often contain insecticides like napthalene, paradichlorobenzebe (PDB), or camphor and are thus moderately to severely toxic to pets. If ingested, they can cause vomiting, lethargy, anemia and even liver or kidney damage. Not to mention they're also a hazard for choking or intestinal obstruction if swallowed. Take your pet to the vet as soon as possible if you think they ingested one and, if possible, bring a sample or photo of the item or its box.
4. School Supplies
Now that kids are going back to school, you likely have an abundance of school supplies - from glue sticks and tape, pencils to pens, markers to highlighters and beyond. Fortunately, most school supplies are created for children and thus nontoxic. But that doesn't mean they don't still pose dangers to our dogs. For example, small items can cause choking, gastrointestinal upset or even obstruction if ingested. Moreover, batteries for calculators and other devices can be toxic to dogs or cause intestinal blockage if ingested. Make sure to keep school supplies out of your dog's reach, especially if your dog likes to chew or is a teething puppy.
5. Seasonal Food
Autumn foods are tasty but most are actually dangerous for dogs. Because of this, it's best to keep seasonal food out of your dog's reach. Halloween candies and chocolates (including sugar free sweets with xylitol) can cause serious health issues. Thanksgiving foods are hazardous too, such as those made with garlic and onions (which are toxic to dogs), fatty foods (that can cause life-threatening pancreatitis) and turkey bones (which can lead to choking, stomach obstruction or pierced intestines).
Even though nuts are tasty all year round, they are traditionally an autumn food and so many people buy more during the Fall. But nuts are are not the best snack for your dog. While a few occasional non-toxic ones shouldn't cause your dog any problems, it's a good idea to avoid them. This is because they are a high in fat (dogs have trouble digesting fat and it can lead to pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening), calories (which can lead to weight gain or obesity) and often contain additives (coatings, salt and sweeteners) that are toxic. They can also be a choking hazard or cause intestinal obstruction and have mold, which can be toxic.
For more information, read our article about nuts and dogs.
Other ways to keep your dog safe around food include barricading the kitchen (if possible), throwing away any garbage immediately and securing the trash can. In addition, advise guests not to feed your dog, inform them of what dogs can't eat and watch children around food. If you think your pet has ingested something toxic, call your vet or a poison hotline, like ASPCA Poison Control Center.
Pro Tip: Give your dog something to work on (such as made-for-dogs chewing bones, like bully sticks, or puzzle toys) during dinner so they'll be occupied during the meal.
7. Decorations And Holidays
Though pretty and festive, decorations can also pose risks for pets so it's best to keep as many of them out of your dog's reach. Most are a choking hazard or, if swallowed, can cause intestinal obstruction or damage. For example, raw pumpkin and corn can do so and may have added toxicity if they're moldy. Electric or battery-powered decorations (though safer for pets than candles) can cause electrical shock, burns and chemical burns if chewed. Plants, especially holiday ones, also need to be kept out of reach as many are toxic to dogs. A few toxic holiday plants include: Poinsettias, holly berries, mistletoe, Cedar Christmas trees, amaryllis, Baby’s Breath, Sweet William, certain ferns, hydrangeas and more.
In addition, make sure your dog stays safe around people and at parties. Keep an eye on your dog at the door, making sure they don't escape with guests or trick-or-treaters. It may be a good idea to secure your pet in another room when guests are arriving and leaving or until trick-or-treating is over. Also, update your pet's identification tags and microchips to provide an extra precaution in case they do escape. If your dog isn't microchipped, consider doing so, as it offers a more permanent identification method if your dog's collar or tags fall off.
If your dog doesn't love being around new people or commotion, think about skipping hosting this year. If you can't, you may want to separate him or her in another room with a crate and a favorite toy to reduce stress and prevent possible conflict or injury.
Pro Tip: Avoid walking your dog during trick-or-treating, if possible, to prevent snacking on candy, wrappers and other items on the ground. If it's unavoidable, make sure you keep your dog on leash and use a sturdy harness. Also, don't leave pets out in the yard, either. Sadly, there have been several cases of pranksters teasing, injuring, stealing and even killing pets on Halloween.
7. Dropping Temperatures
Autumn means winter is coming, and in many areas, that also means it's getting colder. You'll want to make sure your dog stays warm, as temperatures below freezing can result in hypothermia and frostbite. While most breeds are well equipped for the cooler months, some aren't and will likely need warming clothing and gear. Some examples include dogs with short fur like Greyhounds and Chihuahuas, small dogs and toy breeds, young puppies and seniors.
For dogs that like to spend time outside, give them outdoor beds and blankets, insulate doghouses and provide other weather protection. But make sure you don't leave them out in the cold for extended periods of time (preferably no longer than 15-20 minutes). If you give your dog summer haircuts or shaves, make sure you let them grow their fur out for fall and winter, as their coat provides natural insulation. Beware of cold snaps (when temperatures drop suddenly) and monitor the weather to ensure it's not too chilly for your dog. If your dog is older, they may experience discomfort or aggravation of arthritis and joint issues. Keep an eye out for signs of this, such as limping and exercise avoidance. Talk to your vet if you notice these, as you may want to add a glucosamine supplement.
Pro Tip: Some dogs may become more active in autumn. Take this into account when feeding them, as more activity means more calories burned and that can lead to weight loss if not corrected for.
8. Less Daylight And Reduced Visibility
The shortest days of the year are approaching and that means it gets dark earlier. This can impact your daily walks, whether you go in the morning or evening. To avoid any issues, you and your dog can wear clip-on lights or reflective gear to notify vehicles and cyclists of your whereabouts (these may ward off coyotes as well). Ensuring your dog is visible can also be helpful in case they get loose. And if your area doesn't have street lights, you may want to carry a flashlight to better see your surroundings. This can reduce the chances your dog eats something they shouldn't.
9. Nuts, Continued
Wild nuts and acorns ripen in September and October, falling from the trees soon after. Avoid letting your dog eat these as they can cause choking and intestinal obstruction. They may also be toxic depending on the type of nut (e.g. black walnuts) or if they have mold. In fact, nuts often grow mold once they fall. Do a regular sweep of your yard and surrounding areas for any wild nuts or acorns. Keep an eye out on walks and maintain closeness with your dog for maximum control. Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if they ingest a suspicious nut and are exhibiting signs of illness or distress.
Fall is peak season for mushrooms and not all wild varieties are safe for pets. Because it's hard to distinguish toxic from nontoxic ones, it's best not to let your dog have any. Look for mushrooms in your surroundings and remove or avoid them. Clear your yard before letting your dog out unsupervised and keep a watchful eye when on walks, hikes or at the dog park. This is especially important for dogs who like to eat anything and everything (like our Brody).
Take your dog to the vet or an emergency vet if you think your dog ate any amount of mushrooms. If possible, take a sample or photograph for the vet to analyze. Toxic mushrooms can cause vomiting as soon as 15 minutes after ingestion and can result in liver damage. You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 and visit their Poisonous Plants page for more information.
11. Critters And Wildlife
As winter approaches, many wild animals are out and about, feeding heavily and otherwise preparing for the colder temperatures and snow. This usually means that critters like skunks, raccoons, snakes and bears are more active before hibernation. Wasps and hornets are often scrambling to prepare for winter too, and can be quite aggressive.
Keep an eye out for animals when walking and make sure your dog stays close to your for quick control if need be. If you do come across a wild animal, keep your distance as always. You may also want to skip the off-leash hikes during this time since wild animals can cause injury or even transmit diseases.
For snakes in particular, make sure to avoid areas covered in ivy, pine straw or fallen leaves as these provide the dark and moist safety that they like. It's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with your area's snakes and where they most likely live, particularly the venomous ones. Once you know this, you can stay clear of those areas and habitats. Furthermore, you may want to keep your dog on-leash until it snows to avoid any mishaps. Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if they get bit, injured or come in contact with a wild animal that seems off.
Pro Tip: Fall is big game hunting season, so outfit your dog with a brightly colored vest when hiking to notify hunters and avoid them mistaking your pup for deer, bear and other large animals.
12. Fall Foliage And Flora
Fall foliage is a hallmark of autumn - who doesn't love the vibrant colors and that crunch under your feet? But fallen leaves can actually be hazardous to our dogs. Not only can they be hiding fleas, ticks, snakes and other critters but ingestion can cause gastrointestinal upset. Furthermore, there are trees, plants and flowers out there that are toxic to dogs. Some examples include Yews, Autumn crocus and Lillies. Many of these can cause a wide range of issues from vomiting and diarrhea to heart arrhythmias and cardiac arrest to kidney failure and death.
It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with your area's toxic foliage and flora (you can find lists on the internet, such as ASPCA's list of toxic plants). In addition, check your yard daily and remove anything fallen or rotten, as well as bare branches and sticks that could catch on your dog. Also, keep an eye out on walks and maintain control over your dog to ensure they don't eat anything toxic. If your dog ingests anything that causes illness or distress, contact your vet as soon as possible.
Although flea season typically starts in May, it intensifies in the fall (usually September, October and November) then dwindles in the winter. But fleas can still survive and even be active during cooler months. As long as it's warm enough, fleas can survive and eggs can hatch with or without a host. So, for instance, if fleas entered your house when it was warm out, their eggs could still hatch and attach themselves to your dog later.
Even if fleas don't come inside your home where there's guaranteed warmth, they can still find places outside that are warm enough to survive (like under your house or on a host). So if a flea infested wild animal passes through your yard, the flea eggs can fall off, hatch on a warmer day and then attach to your dog. In reality, it doesn't need to be much higher than freezing temperatures for fleas or their eggs to survive. Only consistently cold temperatures of 30’s or lower for a prolonged period of time will kill fleas. So areas with more mild winters are at a greater risk of year-round flea issues than those with harsh winters with several days below freezing.
This is why it's important to regularly use year-round preventative flea and flea egg medication on your dog. In addition, think about treating your home since much of a flea's life cycle can occur off of a host and our homes creates a suitable environment. Frequent cleaning, vacuuming and washing of dog beds, toys and any bedding or linens can be helpful. Also, avoid piles of leaves and debris as fleas tend to like those areas.
Pro Tip: Use hot water when washing items as it's typically more effective at killing any fleas or flea eggs.
14. And Ticks
Most people think that tick season is just in the spring and summer, but the truth is that ticks are most active from March to mid-May and again mid-August to November. Many are even out year-round, if not every day then every month. Because of this, it's best to keep your dog on tick prevention all year, such as monthly oral medications and topical applications. There are also tick shampoos that kill on contact or tick sprays and powders for use before heading out with your pup. However, shampoos must be applied more often than oral medicine, usually every two weeks, and sprays or powders aren't as effective and shouldn't be applied it to your dog's face, mouth and ears (which are areas ticks like). You can also buy tick collars, but these tend to only protect your dog's neck and head and need to be in direct contact with your dog's skin to work.
Also, you'll want to keep your yard manicured and may even want to consider insecticides, which kill ticks outright (but be careful, since pesticides are toxic to dogs too). Avoid tall grasses and be careful around fallen leaves, as ticks like damp environments. Make sure to check your dog's body after hikes or venturing in wooded areas, especially those with large deer populations. Increase body checks and grooming if you and your dog spend a lot of time outdoors. Ticks can be found almost anywhere on a dog but especially like to attach to the ears, groin, toes, eyelids, tail and anus.
Pro Tip: If you have a dog with long fur or a double-coat, use a dog hair dryer (or your own on a cool setting) to check for ticks. The dryer will part your dog's hair, allowing you to see their skin and any ticks attached.
For more information, check out our article on ticks and Lyme disease.
15. Seasonal Allergies And Other Skin & Fur Issues
Like humans, dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies. For example, ragweed is one of the the most common autumn triggers, blooming in late summer and early fall. According to vets, seasonal allergies are a major issue for pets and peak in spring and fall. Although there are a wide variety of allergens for dogs, the most common ones are grass, pollen, trees, weeds, dust and dust mites, mold, mildew, and environmental pollutants. This can lead to a variety of skin and fur issues for dogs.
For a list of symptoms, check out our article about seasonal allergies in dogs. If you think your dog is suffering from them, go to the vet for an evaluation. They'll likely do testing and come up with a treatment from there. In addition, increase grooming as your dog is likely shedding their lighter summer coat for their thicker winter one. This may help ease some seasonal allergy symptoms like itching and shedding or hair loss. It's important to note that pet allergies can't be cured but they can be successfully managed.
Pro Tip: Because it's getting colder outside, we tend to raise the temperature inside. Make sure your dog's crate isn't near vents as that can cause skin irritation, allergy flare-ups and other issues.
Canine flu and bordetella (also known as kennel cough) are airborne diseases that can spike at any time, including autumn. Keep your dog safe by getting the bordatella vaccine and avoiding any coughing or ill dogs. Contact your vet as soon as possible if your dog develops a cough, fever or loss of appetite.
Furthermore, seasonal canine illness (also known as SCI or canine seasonal disease) is rare but occurs between August and November, with its peak in September. It affects dogs one to three days after woodland walks, but the specific cause is unknown. Research has ruled out contaminated water sources, fungi, flora and man-made poisons. Mites, specifically seasonal harvest mites, may be the trigger, though many dogs pick them up without becoming sick.
Knowing the signs of SCI can go a long way to help your dog, as it's characterized by a rapid onset of symptoms that can become severe within hours. The first symptoms are usually vomiting, diarrhea, other gastrointestinal upset and lethargy. Additional signs include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, high fever, shaking and trembling, and rashes on the abdomen and limbs. SCI can be fatal, usually if not treated with mediations, intravenous fluid therapy, topical sprays and more.
Monitor your dog during the hours and days after a wooded walk and see a vet immediately if symptoms arise. If your area is known to have harvest mites, you may want to avoid wooded walks and hikes between August and November altogether. Keep your dog on-leash and hydrated during walks to have the most control over them, as hydration may help dogs with SCI. Consider using dog-safe mite spray before going on walks. And act quickly if think your dog may have SCI, as those who are treated quickly typically recover fully.
Although dressing dogs up can be fun and adorable, it's not for every pup. Avoid putting your dog in costumes if they don't enjoy it. It can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety, so best not to force it. Signs that your dog isn't happy in a costume include lowered head, flat or pinned-back ears, lip licking, yawning, panting, slumping, shaking, wide eyes or giving the side-eye, and flattened whiskers.
Pro Tip: If you still want your dog to be festive but he or she doesn't like costumes, opt for a themed bandana.
On the flip side, if your dog is okay or enjoys being dressed up, then go for it - as long as you're being safe. Make sure the costume fits properly and does not restrict movement, limit sight and hearing, or inhibit the ability to breathe or bark. Also check the costume for small pieces that can be chewed off and become choking hazards. This is particularly important for puppies since they tend to chew things, especially when teething. It's best to stay close to your dressed-up pup, in case something goes wrong (such as overheating) so you can address it immediately.
Pro Tip: Try on pet costumes beforehand to familiarize your dog with their new outfit. If you can, do so several times for short periods to ease him or her in. Use lots of treats and positive reinforcement to make the experience a good one.