Autumn Safety – Keeping your pet safe as the leaves fall

The evenings are getting darker earlier and the days are less warm so that must mean autumn is just around the corner. With the new season comes new safety issues for you and your pets. Here are a few tips to make sure that your pet is safe from harm as the nights draw in.

Autumn health issues

Physical Health Issues - As it becomes cooler outside our heating goes on inside our homes creating the perfect conditions for fleas and ticks  Make sure you are using preventative treatments such as spot-on liquids and, should you become aware of an infestation treat it straight away. See our dedicated pages on fleas and ticks for further help.


Harvest mites (Trombicula Autumnalis, or ‘Chiggers’) are also a problem in Autumn. These mites live in dense vegetation like bushes or grass and are most active at the warmest part of the day. They are similar to ticks because they too collect in areas where there is less hair.

424px-harvest_mite_cycle-svgHowever, unlike ticks they are usually found in large numbers – an infestation looks similar to red/orange coloured dust or sand - and rather than feed on blood they feed on skin cells. The mites typically feed for 2 or 3 days and then drop off leaving an itchy skin rash that can last for several weeks.

The mites are very resistant to most treatments so if possible walk your dog the cooler parts of the day and in areas that are less likely to colonise.

Unfortunately there are no licensed preventative treatments that act specifically on harvest mites, however, some anti-flea treatments do offer some protection. As a result, if you do see signs of the mites you should make a visit to your vet for advice and treatment.

Harvest mites are being investigated as a possible cause for another health problem associated with autumn - seasonal canine illness (SCI).

SCI is an illness that appears in the autumn and since 2009 has increasingly been affecting dogs that have been walked in wooded areas.

The symptoms of this mysterious illness appear after 24 to 72 hours after a woodland walk and include vomiting, diarrhoea, and lethargy. If you notice your dog displaying these symptoms after having a woodland walk you should seek veterinary assistance since many dogs that have been affected have become fatally ill.

A fairly common ailments as a result of the changing seasons  - as with humans -  is aching joints. If your pet suffers from joint issues, including arthritis, make sure you are aware of the ways in which you can help to manage the condition by reading our dedicated advice page on the subject.

Psychological Health Issues - As responsible pet owners we should consider the psychological health of our pets too! Autumn is the time when fireworks are regularly let off, not only for bonfire night, but also for other festivals and private event, and continuing until the new year.

We have already covered the stress and anxiety that fireworks cause in our blog but we often forget the preceding event of Halloween as a cause of concern.

While not as prevalent as in America, dressing up pets for Halloween is becoming more frequent in the UK, particularly as people try to outdo their social media rivals to become Instafamous, for example.

Some pets don’t appear to mind being dressed up but many find the experience stressful and uncomfortable. Their experience of Halloween is made all the more stressful by the fact that the doorbell keeps ringing and strangers keep on appearing. A very difficult situation for a pet who is very conscious of their territory.

Another psychological stressor is the new school year. If you have children, your pet will have enjoyed a happy month or so with some extra attention. Once the school holidays are over the change in routine from having a house full of people might mean your pet need some adjustment and some pets might exhibit signs of separation anxiety. See our advice page on recognising anxiety in your pet to discover more about identifying and treating for this type of behaviour.

Autumn also brings with it new vegetation and foods, as well as party foods for the various seasonal festivals, such as sweets and chocolate for Halloween trick or treat-ers or Diwali. We describe the dangers of chocolate here, however, let us remind ourselves of toxic foods and products that might be more common in the Autumn.

Autumn Poisons

Food –the pet poison hotline in America claims that the week of Halloween is their busiest time of year. The callers concerns are usually related to sweets, chocolate – and their wrappers – and raisins/nuts that are given out by the more health conscious homeowners.

Household/Garden – If you do choose to dress your pet up, be aware of what it is made of and, should you see your pet nibbling on it make sure they have not ingested anything, particularly any metal or small pieces that may become lodged in their throat or stomach.

As the weather cools you will inevitably turn on your heating, and light fires, however, before you do so, remember to have your appliances serviced and chimneys swept and checked , just in case of carbon monoxide and smoke build up, both of which are significantly more toxic to animals – especially birds and small animals - than humans. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are therefore a good investment!

You will, no doubt, be making your garden and car winter ready, which means that you may use items such as anti-freeze, rodenticides, and other chemicals. Always remember to store these products carefully and if anything is spilt, make sure you clear it away promptly and thoroughly.

It is also advisable to hoot your horn or bang on the bonnet before you start your car because cats – and other animals - have a tendency to curl up in and around car engines because they are sources of warmth.

Veterinary care.Drugs, and health and beauty products - it is a fact of life that we humans will be prone to colds and flu as the weather changes.

No doubt you will be dosing yourself with medication, and whether it is herbal or medical you should be aware that your pet could easily become poisoned by medication that is left out, similarly flea and tick medication can cause an adverse reaction in some pets.

Flea and tick medication are very safe for your pet but if you dose your cat with medications intended for canines, for example, or a small dog with a dose intended for a big dog your pet might experience an adverse reaction.

aesculus_hippocastanum_fruitFlowers/Plants/Trees - As the leaves fall other vegetation becomes fruitful, many of which can be harmful. As we have already seen autumn crocus, conkers, mushrooms, and Yew, all of which are prevalent in autumn, are toxic, whether they have been found growing outside or brought inside as a floral arrangement.

Autumn also sees rotting fruit and leaves on the ground. In addition to fruit fermenting as they rot and having the potential be toxic in that form, the mould that might develop on them is also of concern.
Mould ingestion, whether it be from spoiled food or mould growing on damp leaves, can cause mycotoxicosis, symptoms of which include vomiting, walking drunk and seizures, and in severe cases can be fatal.

As a result, you should, where possible keep your pet away from, or clear away fallen fruit and leaf piles, make sure rubbish and compost piles are secure or inaccessible. If, however, you suspect your pet has ingested something that might be mouldy you should seek advice from your veterinarian.


aee1be8b-e576-4a13-861c-3f9195cbaf77As the temperature falls and the weather gets wetter you pet is going to feel the cold too, despite their fur! This is particularly true for older pets who are unable to regulate their temperature as well as younger animals.

As a result, you should consider purchasing your dog a jacket for when you take them for a walk. Something that is reflective or has flashing lights is best since the days are shorter and the sun is lower in the sky. If you have a cat and they are amenable you could also purchase a reflective collar so they too are much more easily seen in the low light of autumn. Don’t forget to wear bright colours and/or a reflective jacket too!


Due to the shorter days and the weather you might be inclined to reduce the time spent on walks or time spent outside. Your pets will need the same amount of exercise so if you would rather not be outside yourself make sure you exercise them inside via play sessions, or if you are unable to walk them during the day invest in a dog walker.

With the change in the weather and the type of activity feeding your pet might prove complicated. On the one hand your pet might be hungry because they are colder, while on the other hand because they are less active you will want to feed them less. Use your judgement and common sense to work out if your pet needs more or less food but if you are still unsure seek advice from your veterinarian.

Bedding is also important, particularly for older pets with arthritic joints. We often put our pets beds on floors so be careful you don’t put them in a draft. If you are unable to use a draft excluder or move the bed to a more comfortable spot you could raise the bed slightly so it is out of the cold.


There are many different types of beds available, so make sure you have a bed is the right size for your pet and, if your pet has sore joints consider adding a heating pad. You could also add joint care supplements to their diet or manage their joints buy giving them a joint supporting diet.

The changing seasons may cause your pet to moult and, indeed the weather may cause their coats to become muddy and tangled. As a result you should pay particular attention to your pet’s grooming, firstly to prevent your cats from getting fur balls and secondly to remove dead hair and fur to prevent skin conditions, and also to help you identify whether they may have ticks or fleas for example.


When you groom your pet also pay attention to their paws, with reduced activity their nails and claws are likely to be longer than usual because they haven’t been worn down. If you are worried about clipping your pet's nails or claws, either visit a professional groomer or seek advice from your vet.

Small Pets and Birds

1280px-Dunkles_HauskaninchenSmall animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs tend to lose heat quickly, so if they have hutches outside they should be moved to a warmer spot such as a garage or shed. Never use hot water bottles or electric blankets as an alternative heat source because small animals can burn easily.

In order to help keep them warm add extra bedding or insulation such as a blanket or piece of carpet over the top their cage, ensure, though, that there is good ventilation in their habitat. Some should hang over the front too in order to protect against the elements.

Remember too that you should never house your pet in a garage where a car is being used because exhaust fumes can be fatal to small animals. Also, you should make sure that their hutch or cage is raised from the ground. This will help prevent it from becoming damp and cold, and it will also improve air circulation.

If you do choose to move the hutch inside your home, make sure it is away from other pets, stressful noises and sources of fumes. Pay special attention to the room temperature too, but make sure you don’t overcompensate and therefore overheat your small pets. Rabbits’ optimal air temperature, for example, is around 10 to 20 degrees C.

As always, if you are unsure about something, or have any concerns about your pet’s health, do speak to your veterinarian who will be happy to help with any queries you may have


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