Fall and Winter Pet Hazards

Fall and Winter Pet Hazards

By Dr. Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

The change of seasons from summer to fall, and fall into winter, while often beautiful, also brings potential hazards for furry family members that pet parents should be aware of.

Fall and Winter Pet Hazards

  1. School supplies — One risk the change of seasons from summer to fall presents for pets is, believe it or not, back-to-school supplies. For example, if you’ve indulged your kids with fruit-scented pencils and erasers, they can attract your dog like a moth to a flame. Common school supplies that present a potential choking hazard for pets include:
Erasers Crayons
Glue sticks/bottled glue Markers
Coins Pencils (splinters)
Action figures/small dolls Pens (especially the caps)
Bouncy balls Paperclips

While these items are considered low toxicity to pets, there is the potential for gastrointestinal (GI) upset and even a digestive tract blockage, so be sure your children keep their school supplies out of reach of four-legged family members.

  1. Antifreeze — Another substance used in the colder months of the year that is highly toxic to pets is antifreeze. The good news is antifreeze poisoning can be easily avoided by taking a few simple precautions:
  • Look for antifreeze products containing the safer propylene glycol rather than highly toxic ethylene glycol
  • Keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and stored out of reach of your pets
  • Dispose of empty or used antifreeze containers properly
  • Be careful not to spill antifreeze, and if you do, clean it up immediately; check your car radiator regularly and repair leaks right away
  • Don’t let pets roam unsupervised where they may have access to antifreeze

Fortunately, U.S. manufacturers of antifreeze and engine coolants have begun to add bittering agents (e.g., denatonium benzoate) to their products to discourage pets, children and wildlife from sampling the sweet-tasting liquid.

  1. Rat poison — Once the weather cools down, rats and other rodents search for shelter and warmth in and under buildings, and in response, people put out rodenticides that are highly toxic to pets. Every fall, most veterinarians see several pets that have been poisoned.

Homeowners put out bait to control the mice and rats, assuming their pet won’t or can’t get into it. Even people who hide the bait around their homes can wind up with a poisoned pet. Tips for protecting your pet from rodent bait toxicity:

  • If you have rodents around your home, I recommend a live trap called the Havahart®, which is a humane trap that catches mice, rats and other rodents so you can remove them from your home without using toxins or poisoning your environment.
  • If you must use a bait trap with a killing agent, select a product that contains an active ingredient other than deadly bromethalin. For example, diphacinone and chlorophacinone are short-acting anticoagulants, and most veterinarians will be familiar with standard methods of diagnosis and treatment. But again, I don’t advocate using these products if at all possible.
  • Supervise your dog or cat when she’s outside to ensure she never has a chance to consume rodents or rodent bait around your home or neighborhood.

If you suspect your pet has ingested any type of rodenticide, get her to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal hospital right away, and if possible, bring a sample of the product she consumed so the vet staff knows what type of poison they need to address.

Diane Weinmann has personal experience with rat poison.  Her husband was trying to eliminate the mole issue in their back yard and put this poison in the holes the moles created.  My dog, Cocoa, a basset black lab mix, was intrigued by the smell and ate it. He was fine one minute running through the yard and the next he was having convulsions!  We rushed him to the hospital and several days later and tons of money we got our dog back but it was a miracle!  We almost lost him and the vet, God Bless him, stayed with him all night to ensure he pulled through.  So obviously, I do not condone any poisons on your property!  My husband felt horrible and of course, as a good wife, I never let him forget it!

  1. Toxic mushrooms — Fortunately, 99 percent of mushrooms present little or no problem for pets or people; however, the remaining 1 percent can be fatal for most mammals if ingested. And to make matters worse, very few people can tell the difference between a toxic mushroom and a safe one.

Since dogs typically come across wild mushrooms during walks and other outdoor activities, especially if you live in a region with lots of moisture, it’s important to take extra care to keep pets away from areas where mushrooms might be sprouting. Dogs tend to be attracted to two deadly mushroom species: Amanita phalloides and Inocybe. Both varieties have a fishy odor, which may be the lure.

The Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina varieties of mushroom also have a fishy odor, and are also frequently eaten by dogs. They contain the toxic compounds ibotenic acid and muscimol, which in rare instances can cause death in dogs.

The Inocybe and Clitocybe mushrooms contain a compound called muscarine that can be lethal to dogs. Since muscarine doesn’t seem to be a problem for humans, it’s assumed dogs must be uniquely sensitive to it. Some Scleroderma mushroom species are also toxic to dogs, but the poisonous substance hasn’t yet been identified.

To ensure your dog isn’t tempted, mushrooms in yards (yours and your neighbors’) should be removed promptly before neighborhood pets have a chance to notice them. As a general rule, veterinarians and pet poison experts consider all mushroom ingestions in pets toxic unless a quick and accurate identification of the mushroom can be made.

If you know or suspect your dog has eaten a mushroom, immediately contact your veterinarian, the nearest emergency animal clinic, or the 24/7 Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. If your pet throws up or poops, collect a sample, place it in a plastic bag and bring it with you.

Again, Diane Weinmann has a pet client, a golden retriever that DIED from eating mushrooms and another golden that just got violently ill for several days!

  1. Snakes — Snakes preparing for hibernation during the winter months may be more visible in the fall, which can increase your pet’s risk of being bitten. Fortunately, most snakes in the U.S. aren’t poisonous, but even a nonvenomous snakebite can be dangerous for dogs and cats. Tips to keep your pet safe:
If you see a snake, don’t walk by it; turn around and head back the way you came
Clear away snake hiding spots in your yard by removing toys, tools and undergrowth
Be aware that snakes can strike across a distance equal to about half their body length
Keep walkways clear of brush, flowers and shrubs
Clean up any spilled food, fruit or birdseed, which can attract rodents, one of snakes’ favorite foods, to your yard
When walking your dog (or cat), keep him on a leash
Steer clear of long grasses, bushes and rocks
Familiarize yourself with common snakes in your area, including those that are venomous


As you can see, you can never be too careful with our beloved pets and you must protect them as best you can from dangers that they are not aware of!

Pet Hazards in the Home and Garden

After the partyPoisonings in the home occur in a number of cases each year.  The most common are chocolate and other food stuffs, contraceptive medicines, other prescription medicines, non-prescription drugs, dog flea products used on cats and washing powder.  Keep all substances that are toxic to pets well out of their reach and in secure containers.  If your pet is unwell, phone your vet for advice, DO NOT give any human medications to your pet without veterinary advice.  Ibuprofen can be toxic to dogs and paracetamol is highly toxic to cats.

Foreign bodies – dogs in particular like to pick up and carry objects like shoes, socks and toys.  Unfortunately occasionally these items are swallowed and can lead to a blockage in your dog’s (or occasionally cat’s) intestines.  Our vets have removed all manner of items from animals’ intestines over the last couple of years including; socks, pants, stones, corn on the cob, rubber ducks, toy soldiers, batteries, babies dummies, teats from babies bottles, leather strap from a handbag, bones (most commonly lamb), small rubber bouncy balls, kebab stick, latex glove, sewing needle and thread.

Try to prevent your dog carrying around and chewing inappropriate items.  Some dogs (especially the gun dog breeds) were bred to carry things in their mouths so ensure they have appropriate dog toys they are allowed to carry to try and prevent them picking up things they shouldn’t.

Vomiting and diarrhea – the majority of cases of vomiting and/or diarrhea in dogs is caused by a dietary indiscretion (eating random things!) or scavenging.  Try to prevent your dog picking up rubbish like discarded sandwiches or other food or eating dead birds, rabbits or similar he might find on his walk.  Some dogs have quite sensitive stomachs, so avoid giving them food leftovers, especially high fat foods.

Out and about

A large number of the cases we see are as a result of trauma.  From road traffic accidents to falling off a cliff and everything in between.

Road traffic accidents – If you are going to let your dog off the lead make sure you are in a safe environment.  Ensure your dog is well trained (especially the recall and wait/stop command), under control and within your sight at all times.  Even the best trained dog can be spooked and run off, so ensure your dog is wearing a collar, ID tag and ideally is microchipped (don’t forget to keep your contact details up to date).  This will make it much easier to reunite you with your pet if they do become separated from you.

Indoor cats do not get hit by cars or attacked by other cats or dogs.  If you decide to let your cat out, try and train them to be out during the day and in overnight as the majority of cats are hit by cars during the hours of darkness.  We see a significant increase in road traffic accidents in the autumn when the clocks change – so try and ensure your cat is back safely in the house by the time it is dark and rush hour begins.  Ensure your cat is microchipped to increase the chance you will be reunited should anything happen to your cat.

Sticks – we frequently see injuries associated with sticks.  The most common cause of the accident is the when the stick is thrown for the dog and lands like a javelin sticking up out of the ground – the dog then runs onto the stick and can injure the back of the mouth, tongue and oesophagus (food pipe) or trachea (windpipe).  Sadly we also see cases of dogs choking to death on balls – the worst are small hard rubber balls, with or without rope attached.

Health issues

Pyometra – a pyometra is a uterine infection that is most commonly seen in older non-speyed females (both dogs and cats).  By neutering your female pet you eliminate this risk altogether.  Neutering your pet also brings other health benefits including reducing the risk of mammary (breast) cancer if performed when young.

Kittening/whelping problems – complications arising from kittening or whelping can be numerous so think carefully about whether or not you should breed your pet.  Aspects to consider include the suitability of your pet for breeding (temperament, health), time involved and the fact that there is a high number of stray pets in the USA.  Another area to consider is the costs that may be involved – a caesarean section in the middle of the night can cost quite a lot of money.

Article courtesy of VetsNow