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Autumn Dog Safety Tips

Trainer Jamie McKay, CPDT-KSA gives important reminders on keeping our dogs safe this fall.

by Jamie McKay, CPDT-KSA

As the air turns cooler and the leaves begin to change colors, there are a few concerns to keep in mind to keep our dogs safe, healthy and happy.

Many people choose fall as the time to change their car engine's antifreeze. Ethylene glycol-based coolants are highly toxic. Consider switching to propylene glycol-based coolants. Though they aren't completely nontoxic, they are much less toxic than other engine coolants. Many states passed laws requiring that a bittering agent to be added to antifreeze to deter children and pets from drinking the solution. The major manufacturers of antifreeze have now voluntarily agreed to add such a bittering agent to their products. Prevention is key. Keep antifreeze safely contained in a leak proof container. Clean up any spills immediately. Do not let your pet drink from puddles in gutters, roadways and garages etc. Ingestion of antifreeze can cause your dog to appear drowsy, wobbly on their feet and disoriented. Untreated antifreeze ingestion can cause vomiting, convulsions, seizures, coma, renal failure and death. If you suspect that your pet has ingested antifreeze seek immediate veterinary attention.

Rodents tend to seek indoor shelter as temperatures begin to drop. Consequently, the use of rodenticides increases in the fall. Rodenticides are highly toxic to pets and, if ingested, the results could be fatal. Most contain anticoagulants that prevent blood from clotting. Ingestion of one of these products (or of a rodent that has ingested the poison) may cause interference with your dog's ability to clot. If you suspect your dog has ingested rat poison seek immediate veterinary attention. If possible bring the ingested substance with you or take a picture of the substance and/or the actual label.

Mothballs are sometimes used when storing clothing. Mothballs contain pesticides which are harmful to dogs if ingested. Be careful not to drop any mothballs when storing or changing out seasonal clothes. Seek veterinary attention if ingested.

Fall is back-to-school time, and that can mean stocking up on supplies like glue sticks, pencils, pens, magic markers and notebooks. Gastrointestinal upset or blockage can occur if they are ingested. Keep all supplies up and out of reach. Foreign body ingestion is one of the most common vet emergencies. Puppies especially should not be left unsupervised around items they may enjoy chewing like homework! Routines may change as summer vacations end and children go back to school. Gradually introduce them to spending time alone so that you can see how they adjust to the change in routine. If your dog displays distress (accidents, chewing or destroying items in the home, crying, barking) seek help from a professional trainer or behaviorist if necessary.

Halloween candy can be harmful to your pet especially chocolate and candy/gum that contains Xylitol, an artificial sweetener that can cause a pet's blood sugar to drop. Keep the treats out of reach. Seek immediate veterinary attention if your dog has ingested products with Xylitol. Pets may be scared by people in costume or decorations. If using lit candles to decorate never leave them unattended. Be sure that your pet is wearing identification and that your entrance-way is secure if you are expecting trick-or-treaters. Don't expect your pet to wear a costume if they are uncomfortable in it.

Thanksgiving can also be overwhelming for your pet if you are expecting a houseful of guests. Consider giving them a quiet space to relax while you are having company. It's okay to give them a little turkey and sweet potato, but avoid the fatty skin and keep the turkey carcass well out of their reach. Ingesting fatty foods may cause them gastrointestinal upset and even pancreatitis. Cooked bones may splinter when eaten.

Autumn is one of the peak seasons for mushrooms. While the majority of mushrooms have little or no toxicity, those that are highly toxic can cause life-threatening problems in pets. Since most toxic mushrooms are difficult to distinguish from nontoxic ones, the best way to prevent pets from ingesting these poisonous plants is to avoid areas where any mushrooms are growing. Vomiting can be a sign of ingestion. If your pet eats a wild mushroom, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 (a fee will be charged to your credit card). Take a picture, if possible, of any mushrooms in the area and/or collect them so they can be identified.

Acorns pose a hazard to dogs. Ingestion of acorns can cause gastrointestinal upset and intestinal blockages. Tannic acid also found in oak leaves is thought to be the toxic substance and cause kidney and liver damage if ingested. Do not let your dog chew on oak leaves or drink from puddles which contain a large amount of oak leaves. Ticks are commonly found in leaf piles and other lawn debris and are still a threat in cooler temperatures.

As the days get cooler snakes begin to prepare for hibernation, meaning they're more out in the open than usual. Be careful and aware of your environment when hiking or doing yard cleanup. If your dog is bitten seek immediate veterinary attention. If possible (without wasting time or endangering yourself) take a picture of the snake for identification. If the snake has been killed place it in a secure container and bring it with you for identification.

October means hunting season. If you are in an area where hunting is permitted be sure to wear bright reflective colors (orange, day-glow yellow) to stand out and place a similarly colored vest or bandanna on your dog. Do not leave pets outside unsupervised. If you have a noise sensitive dog make sure they are walked on leash and are wearing identification. Consider a martingale collar which will not slip over the head if the dog is scared by gunfire and attempts to flee and back out of their collar. Fall is mating season for deer and males may be aggressive and territorial. While most deer will run from a dog, your dog could be kicked if it decides to harass the deer or give chase. Moose are even more dangerous and are less likely to back down from a dog.

As the outdoor temperatures fall, many of us enjoy a roaring fire either in our fireplaces or at a bonfire. Be aware of the potential for sparks. If using a wood stove be sure it is properly vented. Turn off and unplug electric/space heaters when you leave home. Keep flammable materials away from heaters. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to be sure they are in good working order. Many people use daylight saving time change as an indicator to replace the batteries in their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

As the days shorten it gets darker earlier which may impact your evening walk. Reflective collars, leashes or a blinking light on a collar makes your dog more visible to approaching cars. Finally, as the temperatures drop, your short-haired dog might need a coat to maintain body heat. If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors make sure their water is kept fresh and the bowl is not iced over. Provide them with shelter as the weather gets cooler or bring them inside. Dogs that are extremely active in colder weather may require additional food to keep up with their body's demands.

Make the fall season a happy and safe one by being prepared and aware of your environment.

Jamie McKay, CPDT-KSA and her husband Stephen McKay, CPDT-KSA own McKay9 Dog Training LLC in Harrison, N.Y. Jamie gained her early experience at the Humane Society of Westchester at New Rochelle providing training to enhance the adoptability of shelter dogs while teaching safe handling skills to volunteers. She has competed in agility and rally obedience. Jamie and Stephen are loved and owned by Shetland sheepdog Derby and Border collie Scorch both of who compete in USDAA agility with Stephen and have recently welcomed Shetland sheepdog puppy Tease into the family. Jamie can be reached at

Photo Credits: Jamie McKay


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