Damp and misty autumn days can be so much fun, filled with all sorts of exciting sights and intriguing smells. However, there are several hazards – from toxic conkers to fungus-filled leaf mould and itchy harvest mites – that every pet guardian needs to be aware of...
Posted: 29 August 2020
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.
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.
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.
If we have an Indian summer, then this water-borne hazard is one to watch out for. This highly toxic algae grows in stagnant water and lends a blue-green sheen to the surface. It's very poisonous to canines and just a small amount can make them seriously ill, causing liver failure. It’s most common in non-flowing fresh water such as lakes and ponds during hot weather when there is less rainfall. Exposure to toxic blue-green algae causes long-term health problems in dogs after drinking or swimming in contaminated water. It can also be fatal. Some types of blue-green algae can kill a dog in just 15 minutes to an hour.
Dogs who have been swimming can get the algae caught in their fur and then ingest it while cleaning themselves, so always wash your dog off in fresh, clean water after any swim. If they start to vomit, drool, have diarrhoea, seizures or breathing difficulties, or seem disorientated, contact your vet immediately. While there’s no antidote for the toxins produced by the blue-green algae bacteria, if caught early enough, your vet will likely try to make your dog sick and attempt to flush the toxins from the body before they take hold.
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.
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.
Flea infestations have a tendency 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Some dogs love chasing sticks, but you should NEVER throw them as they can cause cuts to their mouths and tongues or get lodged in their throat. In the worst cases, this can be fatal. Throw and play with an approved, tough plastic toy instead, and make sure whatever you’re chucking about is big enough not to be swallowed.
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.
Seasonal Canine Illness (SCI) is associated with animals which have been walked in wooded areas or parkland, usually in autumn. Cases are characterised by lethargy, vomiting and rapid unconsciousness. Nobody understands the cause of SCI and there is no cure.
The key symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea and tiredness within 72 hours of being in a woodland area – although there may be lots of other common causes for these symptoms. This mystery illness affects dogs of any size, shape, age or gender, but is quite rare and only seems to affect dogs in the autumn, with more cases being seen in September than any other month. 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.
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Sources: bluecross.org.uk, rspca.org.uk, nawt.org.uk, icatcare.org.uk, pdsa.org.uk, petmd.com