As autumn arrives, the nights draw in and the weather changes. New hazards to our pets emerge for us to be aware of. Here are my top ten autumn dangers…
Antifreeze containing ethylene glycol is extremely dangerous to dogs and cats. Car radiator coolant, de-icers, motor oils, brake fluid, photography developer, paints and solvents may all contain it. It’s sweet tasting and just a tablespoon can result in kidney failure in dogs. As little as 1 teaspoon can be fatal to cats. If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, contact your vet immediately. Early signs include lack of coordination, drooling, vomiting, seizures and drinking and urinating more, progressing to severe acute kidney failure with lethargy, drooling, vomiting, seizures, and coma.
There is an expensive antidote for antifreeze but only if given quickly (within 8-12 hours in dogs, 3-4 hours in cats). After this time poisoning is nearly always fatal (Although there are a few cases where pets have made a recovery following administration of the antidote after this, it’s not something to bank on! – Editor). Some “pet-safe” antifreeze products contain propylene glycol, which is much safer. Keep sheds and garages locked and watch for car leaks.
Conkers contain a poison called aesculin, found in all parts of the horse chestnut tree. Dogs need to ingest several to suffer severe poisoning. Serious cases are rare. Signs are seen 1-6 hours after ingestion but can be delayed for up to two days. Vomiting (with blood), diarrhoea, drooling, abdominal pain, increased thirst and reduced appetite are most likely. Restlessness, wobbliness and muscle tremors are less common. There is no antidote, so treatment is given to ease symptoms rather than addressing the cause, by giving intravenous fluids and medications to ease the gastrointestinal signs. An added risk is that conkers and their cases can cause intestinal blockages, especially in smaller dogs, which may require surgical removal. Although toxic to cats, they are usually more discerning with what they eat!
The toxic ingredient is thought to be tannic acid, which can cause damage to the liver and kidneys. A one off feast is likely to cause vomiting, diarrhoea (bloody), abdominal pain and sleepiness. Eating acorns regularly may cause kidney or liver problems. As with conkers, treatment is symptomatic unless large amounts are eaten, after which obstruction may occur needing surgery. If eaten over long periods, the resulting kidney and liver damage requires long-term management.
Rises in chocolate sales around Halloween and bonfire night, and pre-Christmas hoarding, make autumn a risky time for chocolate toxicity. Darker chocolate contains more theobromine, which is toxic to pets. It affects the heart, central nervous system and kidneys, causing vomiting, diarrhoea, restlessness, hyperactivity, rapid breathing, muscle tension, incoordination, increased heart rate and seizures… Usually within 24 hours. Early treatment is vital so your vet can make them vomit, treat symptoms and prevent further damage.
Dark cold nights
High visibility coats, possibly with warning lights, may reduce risks from traffic and help locate lost dogs in the dark. In icy conditions, the chemicals and salt used to de-ice roads and pavements in autumn and winter can cause irritation to pets’ feet and, if licked off, salt poisoning. Take care to wash your pet’s feet after they have been outside in icy weather.
Seasonal canine illness
In 2009, the first reports of dogs becoming seriously ill after walking on countryside sites, particularly woodland, arose. It was named Seasonal Canine Illness. Severe vomiting, diarrhoea, shaking and trembling and in some cases, high temperatures, have been seen. Intravenous fluids and antibiotics ease the signs but so far the cause is unknown so there is no specific treatment. The majority of dogs have recovered but some have died. As it’s unclear what causes SCI, prevention is difficult, so the advice is to be vigilant. Many affected dogs have been infested with harvest mites, but research has yet to prove their involvement.
There are thousands of types of mushrooms in the UK and it’s not always easy to tell the difference between edible and dangerous ones. Signs of poisoning vary dramatically depending on the type of fungi eaten, and may include stomach upset, blood in the stool or vomit, hallucinations or fits, and kidney or liver failure. Some mushrooms cause sudden signs and others take days. If your dog has eaten mushrooms, try to identify the type using pictures, or collect samples wrapped in paper. Vets may make your dog sick if the mushroom is suspected to be toxic. Treatment is otherwise symptomatic as there are no antidotes.
Rat/mouse populations are highest in late summer/autumn. As food and shelter reduce they seek cover, food and warmth, moving into buildings and gardens, leading to more rat bait being laid. Many contain anticoagulant compounds that interfere with blood clotting. One-off exposure, unless large, may not cause issues. Repeated exposure or exposure to higher strength bait can lead to reduced clotting and (abnormal) bleeding. Effects may be delayed for several days. Blood tests can diagnose a clotting issue and vitamin K used as treatment. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be ideal.
Fear of fireworks is common among our pets. Keep all pets indoors and for a few weeks prior, prepare a den where they feel comfortable and secure. Try not to act differently as this can make them more anxious. Introducing pheromone diffusers in advance (airborne hormones that send out comforting signals) can help. Desensitisation programs using CDs can help, but need to be done months in advance. Make sure pets have a collar and a microchip in case they escape and become disoriented.
Chocolate and decorations meant for trick-or-treaters pose risks to pets. Noisy children, decorations and frequent visitors to the house can cause anxiety and frequent door opening can pose an escape risk. Use the same advice as during firework season. Remember fancy dress outfits for our pets may cause amusement for us but may be scary and uncomfortable for them. Always put your pet’s welfare first.