By Helen Anne Travis
The fall season brings holidays and plenty of reasons to get together with loved ones near and far. But all of this activity can be hard on pets, and changes in temperature can aggravate existing health problems. Here are 15 dangers your pets may encounter this fall, plus tips on how to keep them safe.
Any time of year, consuming chocolate can be life threatening to pets, but the risks are greater around Halloween, when bags of candy can be found just about everywhere. “It’s especially tempting for dogs,” says Dr. Kelly Ryan, director of veterinary services at the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America. “It seems to taste as good to them as it does to us.”
Warning signs your pet may have consumed chocolate include seizures and vomiting and diarrhea, says Dr. Ashley Rossman, owner of Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital in Glenview, Illinois. Dogs who have eaten chocolate may also appear hyper and overly excitable. Call your vet immediately if you suspect your pet has swallowed any chocolate and, if possible, try to identify what type of chocolate was consumed. Dark chocolates are especially dangerous, Ryan says.
Even if you and your family already ate all of the chocolate, you still want to keep the trick-or-treating bag far from pets. Eating too much candy of any sort can cause gastrointestinal upset, which can be a nasty experience for you and your pet, Ryan says. There’s also the concern that your pet could choke on an inedible item, like a lollipop stick or candy wrappers.
As fun as trick-or-treating is for kids, it can be an upsetting experience for our pets. “Dog owners need to be cognizant of how their dog responds to people in costumes and take all necessary precautions,” Rossman says.
There’s also a risk of indoor pets darting outside when the door is opened. “Take extra precautions to make sure black cats are safely contained at home due to silly Halloween superstitions,” adds Dr. Rachel Barrack, of New York City’s Animal Acupuncture.
On Halloween, give your pets a comfy and safe space where they have plenty of food and water and you won’t have to worry about them escaping or encountering any scary trick-or-treaters, Ryan says. Because pets can get out at any time of year, use Halloween as an excuse to make sure pets’ collars, tags, and microchip registry information is up-to-date, she says.
While it can be tempting to dress up your dog on Halloween, if your pet hates wearing costumes, don’t torture him, Ryan says.
Even if your pet doesn’t mind being dressed up as a superhero or pumpkin, don’t leave him in his costume unsupervised, she says. Components of his outfit could become a choking hazard. There’s also the risk of the outfit getting caught on something and injuring your pet.
Also be mindful that costumes can be irritating, Rossman says. “Pets that do not have a thick hair coat can get a contact dermatitis [inflamed skin] from some costumes,” she says.
Dressing up is one of the best parts of Halloween, but be aware that your costume may have strings or loose pieces of fabric that could become choking hazards for pets or result in an obstruction that requires surgery, Ryan says. Signs of accidental ingestion include vomiting and avoiding food.
DIY Halloween costumes can be a creative way to save money, but they can also put your pet at risk, because some craft supplies, including certain glues, can be toxic.
Face paint and Halloween makeup can also be toxic or cause serious allergic reactions, Rossman says, so they should never be used on your pets.
Whether you’re using candles for your jack-o’-lantern, table setting, or Diwali display, be sure to keep them far out of your pet’s reach.
Animals can accidentally bump into candles, resulting in severe burns or the possibility of a house fire, Rossman says. Some candles can also negatively impact the air quality and be irritating to pets with respiratory problems.
She recommends using candles made from natural ingredients like beeswax, and keeping all flames far from pets.
When setting up your centerpieces and other fall decorations, keep in mind that some plants are potentially poisonous to pets. For instance, poinsettias can cause oral irritation and gastrointestinal upset when eaten or chewed on, Barrack says.
Chrysanthemums, holly, and mistletoe may also make pets sick, and lily ingestion can result in sudden kidney failure and death in cats, she says.
Keep all holiday plants far out of reach from pets and call your vet immediately if you suspect your cat or dog ate something they shouldn’t have.
For us humans, Thanksgiving is often a time to enjoy an abundance of tasty (and fattening) foods—from mashed potatoes and gravy to stuffing and casseroles. But it’s best not to share these items with your pets, Barrack says. Dogs who eat too many high-fat foods are at risk for developing pancreatitis, a painful and potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas.
Ryan also advises against letting your dog gnaw on leftover turkey, particularly the leg. The bones can splinter and cause gastrointestinal damage. “It’s almost like swallowing a knife,” she says. Other potentially harmful Thanksgiving ingredients may include garlic, onions, raisins, and nutmeg, which could all be toxic to your pet.
Call your veterinarian if you notice your pet is acting lethargic or has vomiting or diarrhea, she says. These could be signs your pet has ingested something she shouldn’t have. “Talking to your vet is always important, even if you’re not sure you should bring your pet in,” Ryan says.
The fall holidays are a popular time to throw a party or host guests. Just make sure you’re keeping an eye on your pets in the process.
Keep your pets far away from guests’ bags, Rossman advises. Something as innocent-seeming as sugar-free gum can be incredibly toxic to dogs, Ryan says. It can also be dangerous if your pet gets into one of your guest’s toiletry bags. Ibuprofen, for example, can cause renal failure, Rossman says. Cosmetics may contain alcohol, which is also dangerous for pets. If your pet exhibits unusual lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea, call your vet or ASPCA animal control immediately, she says.
Also keep in mind that having company can be stressful for dogs and cats, Barrack says. “Make sure they have a safe and quiet place to relax and that they are not inadvertently let out of the home when the door is opened,” she says.
Whether you’re sipping a hard apple cider at Thanksgiving or enjoying a pumpkin beer at the tailgate, pets should never be given alcohol. It depresses the nervous system, Barrack explains. Alcohol can also be damaging to the kidneys, Ryan adds.
Warning signs your pet has consumed alcohol include vomiting, disorientation, difficulty urinating, and dehydration, Rossman says. Other more serious signs include collapse and coma. Call your vet immediately if your pet has consumed alcohol, she says.
With the change of season comes environmental irritants and allergens that can make life miserable for anyone. “Seasonal allergies can occur in pets just as they can in people,” Barrack says. “Dust, grass, ragweed, and mold are common culprits.”
Talk to your veterinarian if you notice your pet is sneezing, coughing, or itching excessively, she says. Your vet should be able to come up with a plan to relieve your pet’s symptoms throughout the season.
Fall brings cool—and in some parts of the country, downright cold—weather. Some dogs, especially smaller toy breeds and those with short-hair coats, may need a sweater or jacket to keep warm, Barrack says. Pet parents should also look out for older dogs with compromised immune systems and dogs with endocrine issues, she says.
Colder temperatures can also exacerbate arthritis in some pets, Barrack says. Talk to your veterinarian should you notice your pet showing signs of discomfort, such as reluctance to exercise, limping, and unusual vocalization when moving, she says.
Fall also means shorter daylight hours, so use caution when walking your pet at night, Barrack adds.
As the temperature drops, some folks will need to break out the antifreeze to keep their cars running smoothly. But this product should be kept far out of your pet’s reach. “Antifreeze often contains a chemical called ethylene glycol. Pets are attracted to its sweet taste,” Barrack explains. “However, if a dog or cat ingests even a small amount of it, there can be serious, and even fatal, repercussions.”
If you fear your pet has ingested antifreeze, bring her to the veterinarian immediately so she can be treated with an antidote to prevent acute kidney failure, Barrack says.
Just because the weather is cooler doesn’t mean you should be easing up on your pet’s parasite protection, Ryan stresses. “I think people forget fleas and ticks tend to be out quite a bit in the fall,” she says.
Fleas can carry tapeworms and other health concerns…and be an itchy nuisance, Ryan says. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and other conditions that are much easier to treat when detected early, Rossman says.
Make sure to follow your veterinarian's recommendations for flea, tick, and heartworm prevention year-round, Ryan says.
Nothing says fall like jumping into a pile of freshly raked leaves. But those tempting leaf piles can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, Barrack says. They can also contain sticks that could do damage to your dog’s gastrointestinal tract if swallowed. You also want to keep pets away from compost piles, Barrack says. These may contain decomposing mycotoxins, which can cause seizures if ingested.
Products like rodenticides are also fatal to dogs and cats. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you fear your pet may have ingested any poisons.
For best results, keep your pets inside when doing yard work, and use a secure leash during walks.
“After the holiday visitors leave and the decorations come down, the clean-up begins,” Barrack says. “Make sure your pets cannot access harmful cleaning supplies, which contain chemicals like ammonia, bleach, and chlorine.”
Even all-natural products can cause stomach irritations, she says. Keep your pets in a separate area until all recently cleaned surfaces are dry.