7 Autumn Health Tips for Dogs & Cats

puppy in leavesThere is nothing quite like a crisp autumn breeze, beautiful foliage, and the smell of warm spices baking in the kitchen. Do beware though--fall ushers in a bushel of dangers for our furry companions. Here’s how to keep your pets safe and healthy this season.

1. An increased need for food as the summer heat lessens up?

Several decades ago, your veterinarian may have recommended a slight increase in your pet's food consumption as the weather cooled and your pet required slightly more caloric intake to regulate his system. Today, however, things have changed. With a shocking number of pets categorized as obese and most dogs and cats are primarily house pets, this isn't a concern for most pet parents. If you do have a very fit working dog, a small increase may be a wise idea; with this said, an increase around 10% is probably all that is necessary. This does not mean an extra meal or an unlimited pass to treats.

2. School and home project supplies pose risks to curious pets.

While kids may be dedicated to keeping their school supplies tidy for the first week or so, at this point in the season, school supplies may be holding living rooms hostage. School glues, permanent markers, and pencils can all cause upset stomachs. Heavy-duty glues can cause serious blockages in the GI tract and even require surgery to remove them—and part of your pet’s GI system. Make sure your children's projects stay covered up and are not accessible to your pets. Dogs in particular seem to like the flavor of glue.

This also goes for adults if you’re doing home improvement projects now that the weather has cooled off. I once had to remove over 12” of small intestine from a dog when his owner ran to Lowe's in the middle of a flooring project. His dog “helped” in the owner’s absence by ripping up the remaining linoleum and ingesting all the remaining glue. These accidents are easily avoided but repairing the damage is never as simple.

3. An apple a day?

As it turns out, apples are not the cure to health for Fido or Fluffy. If your dog likes to graze the ground for food, consider leaving Fido at home during your stroll of the apple orchards. While the flesh of ripe apples doesn’t pose a problem for dogs or cats, apple stems, leaves and seeds are not so gentle. They can cause GI upset, decreased oxygen in the blood, decreased heart rate, difficulty breathing, seizures, coma, and even death. With reasonable preparation, the flesh of apples can make a suitable treat for dogs but cats are unlikely to enjoy the flavor of this fruit.

4. Fall is a prime season for mushrooms.

While most are non-toxic, dogs are highly susceptible to mushroom poisoning because of their wandering and scavenging behavior. Unfortunately, dogs are unable to sniff out the toxic ones, so the best way to avoid trouble is to keep pets away from areas where any mushrooms are growing. Dogs should be prevented from consuming mushrooms when they are being exercised. Profuse bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dehydration, fever, and elevated heart rates characterize the initial phase of mushroom toxicity. Without treatment, the pet will succumb to liver and kidney failure within 3-7 days. As with most poisonings, prompt upper gastrointestinal decontamination and supportive care are critical elements of treatment.

5. Snakebite season is here.

Autumn is the season when snakes prepare for hibernation and are more likely to strike, increasing the possibility of bites to naive and curious pets. Be aware of what kinds of venomous snakes are in your area and avoid the areas they most often inhabit.

6. The fall season brings highly caloric foods and drinks that don't end with the Halloween candy bowl.

Sharing human treats can be dangerous and even deadly. Stay away from desserts, candies, fatty meat and trimmings, bones, gravies, calorie-dense casseroles, and seasoned sides. Don't forget garlic and onions are toxic! Many pet parents aren't aware of the many dangerous things that can happen, such as acute and life-threatening pancreatitis, a condition brought on when a pet ingests highly fatty foods.

A note for any season: Do you know the most popular flavor of dog medication? It's CHOCOLATE! Turns out we aren't the only ones that enjoy the rich flavor of cocoa beans. Dogs will go to great lengths, or counter-top heights, to indulge in this deadly vice so don't leave the candy bowl or kitchen counter unsupervised and within a paw's reach for a moment!

7. Consider adding pumpkin to your pet's diet if you are looking for a healthy nutritious seasonal treat.

Pumpkin, both raw and canned, is safe provided your pet is not suffering from a chronic condition such as kidney disease or diabetes. As far as our healthy pets go, seeds and flesh of fresh, raw or cooked pumpkins are safe. Fresh pumpkin is more nutritious than canned. If you choose to go with canned, make sure it doesn’t have added sugar or sweeteners. An easy way to have some handy dog treats around that will last several weeks is roasting the seeds in the oven.

With a little preparation and knowledge, you can be sure to avoid havoc and habits that would otherwise lengthen your soon to be pet New Years Resolutions (hint, hint, nudge, nudge, put #6 on your fridge door or taped to the doggy treat bowl). I know you must have some advice I've missed--after all, pet parents don't always fess up to their vets. No judgment here; the snake tip is my personal addition to the collection. Do share--have you had any run ins with fall pet hazards that could have been avoided?

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