As the leaves begin to turn glorious burnt shades
of orange and red, the nights shorten and the brisk
mornings begin, our pet friends are bidding farewell to
the long hot days and autumn is now upon us.
As we brush off the end of summer blues by reminding ourselves of the beauty and excitement in store at the tail end of every year, exercising and cosying up with your beloved animal can be a new-found joy – as long as a few potential seasonal pitfalls are flagged up and expertly navigated.
FLEAS AND TICKS – these pesky parasites are nearly at the end of their reign of terror, with cooler temperatures beginning to reduce their ability to live outdoors. Yet the amount of companion animals suffering with flea allergy dermatitis and tick bites greatly
increases this month, with their parasitic ferocity doubled as they are driven by cooling temperatures to jump on the back of anything warm-blooded that crosses their path.
Ticks are particularly important to find quickly, with a thorough check after a walk sometimes locating ones which are yet to attach – these can be easily removed, helping to prevent your dog from potentially picking up the increasingly common Lyme Disease.
Environmental infestations are also on the rise as the weather cools, with fleas desperate to jump on your pet in the hope of finding warmer and more comfortable places to lay their eggs…your home! Remember to use a topical preventative collar or monthly chewable tablet prescribed by your vet to ensure that your dog or cat is not on the menu this autumn.
GRASS SEEDS – shaped like an arrow head and able to do just as much damage, these nasty little awns can really cause some serious discomfort to your adventurous pet.
Being wheaten in colour and produced by many different types of grasses, particularly in autumn, they attach very easily to the furry feet and coats of dogs and cats. With movement, these sharp arrow-headed seeds first pierce the skin and then, if not noticed, can burrow deep into the body and cause infection and major discomfort.
With a thorough foot examination of your canine companion after every walk this harvest season, finding and removing grass seeds can be easy, but they are also known to find their way into ears, eyes, noses, mouths, under fore and hind limbs and even inhaled into the lungs. If you notice your dog is chewing excessively at their feet, shaking their heads, scratching or chewing violently or there is evidence of a blister and small hole in the skin with discharge, then booking a vet appointment should be top of your agenda.
Prevention can be achieved with clipping your pet’s feet fur very short to reduce their ability to pick up the seeds, avoiding walking your dogs in long grass, and of course a good head to toe examination at the end of that leisurely autumnal stroll.
BONFIRE NIGHT – with the bangs and flashes about to begin, which seem to commence earlier and earlier every year, remember that many of our furry friends can suffer with noise phobia.
With some fireworks as loud as 5x that of an aeroplane taking off overhead and a dog’s hearing around 10x as sensitive as ours, it’s no surprise that many canines don’t share our love of fireworks. And it’s not just the loud bangs that cause them distress; pets find the flashes of light can also be alarming and they would much prefer to hide away in a safe corner of your house until the ‘fun’ is over. If your dog or cat has shown signs of sensitivity to loud noises or fireworks, speak to your vet about the numerous stress relieving products that exist on the market. From calming agents to synthesized scent hormones (called pheromones), these products can definitely help to reduce the signs of fireworks phobia in dogs.
Remember to walk your dog well during the day, as a well exercised dog is a calm dog, while closing the blinds to reduce the flashes and putting low level music on to dull the bangs are all great ways of reducing the effects of bonfire night stress. Calming clothing even exists for dogs – the Thundershirt acts to provide your canine companion with a constant cuddle to help soothe their jangling nerves.
Cats should always be retrieved from the great outdoors before nightfall in the firework season; provide them with a den or hideaway somewhere in the centre of the house to make them feel safe and secure.
TOXIC PLANTS – with nature’s bounty plentiful in autumn, it makes sense that it also produces some things which aren’t great for our pets. Apples, for example, are fine when given fresh, ripe, and in small amounts – though apple cores, leaves and seeds can cause gastrointestinal upsets, blockage or toxic effects such as breathing difficulties, low blood pressure and worse.
Conkers, the commonly collected seed of the Horse Chestnut, are toxic to dogs and also the perfect size to lodge in the gut.
Mushrooms are a very dangerous group of fungi which can befuddle even the best botanist. Many look similar and some are edible, though many are toxic and when eaten in even small amounts can be fatal. It would be great if our canines could sniff out the non-toxic ones for a snack during a brisk autumn walk, but sadly they are not that discerning, so it is best to avoid them all together by actively dissuading your dog from consuming or going near them. Vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and an elevated heart rate are the not so subtle signs that the inconspicuous looking mushroom snack was perhaps not a good idea and an immediate trip to the vet without detour is needed.
Gardeners also need to be cautious when planting bulbs of springtime flowers, as our constant gardening companions can find a bite of daffodil or tulip highly toxic if eaten.
As we prepare for Christmas decorating, poinsettia, mistletoe, holly and their berries all look great but are toxic to our pets. Take care to ensure that these beautiful floral adornments are kept out of reach of your animal friends as they investigate these interesting additives to their festive home.
WINTERPROOFING YOUR GARDEN – for pets that live outdoors, it’s time to batten down the hatches for the winter ahead. Tortoises, chickens or small furry creatures like rabbits and guinea pigs all need to be thought about as the temperatures drop.
Read up on hibernation and ensure your tortoise is the correct age and weight based on its
species, providing a safe place when the time is right for your reptilian friend to see out the winter months in peace and slumber. For rabbits, guinea pigs and those backyard chickens that reside outdoors, provide increased amounts of warm dry bedding and un-freezable water sources, while draught, rain and snow-proofing their enclosures to ensure they are comfortable and cosy during the winter months.
Putting a few seeds out in the recently dusted off bird feeder as the winter days shorten wouldn’t hurt either and our wild friends will appreciate it.
COMFORT EATING – with the nights getting shorter and the temperatures dropping, many dogs will have an increased appetite while their owners inadvertently walk their canine companion for shorter and shorter periods.
Cats like mine who enjoy the freedom to maraud the local neighbourhood during those long summer evenings can easily pile on the pounds as they snooze their way through the colder months of the year. It’s the age-old balance of diet and exercise that dictates your pet’s waistline – so keep the miles up with your dog and actively play with your cat while considering a low-fat formula diet via your vet to help keep their healthy summer
waistlines intact during the winter.
TOXIC FOODS AND DIETARY INDISCRETIONS – just as we all like to indulge during the festive season, pet owners feel that it would be mean not to share yuletide treats with their pets. Not so. Many of us are already aware of the toxicity of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, to our canine companions, but many other foods are either too rich, too niche or just plain inappropriate to give to a pet. Standard Christmas fare like stuffing and pudding are both off the pets’ menu. Onions, raisins, grapes, currants and sultanas are all potentially toxic to dogs, and sage causes stomach upsets or worse in cats.
Macadamia nuts, blue cheese, and any tasty treat that is wrapped or in foil at an accessible level can also lead to upset tummies or irritated bowels, which are best avoided to ensure a healthy pet and non-irritated owner as you prepare family feasts.
Dogs are creatures of habit, and generally so are their guts, so giving them foods that they have never had before or eat only rarely will only end up in tears…or other liquid excretions that we don’t need to mention.
A small amount of white turkey meat without fat may be acceptable on Christmas day, but even a small amount of highly fatty foods can precipitate what I call ‘Boxing Day Disease’ – Pancreatitis, a painful inflammatory condition of the pancreas usually brought on by eating a novel high fat meal. No one enjoys being at the veterinary clinic on Boxing Day, including the vets and your pet, so if you’re thinking ‘should I/ shouldn’t I’ about a food, then consult with your vet or simply just tell yourself Ho Ho NO!