10 Fall Pet Safety Tips for a Healthy and Happy Spooky Season
Whether it's a date on the calendar, a drop in temperature, or nature's fade from green to gold, we all have our cue that it's time to bid summer farewell and embrace a new season. But before you dive headfirst into a pumpkin spice latte or don your coziest sweater, it's worth taking a moment to examine autumn from your pet's perspective. After all, what fun is fall if our pets can't enjoy it alongside us?
Here are 10 fall pet safety tips to help you and your pet get the most out of the season, according to Alicen Tracey, DVM, of Den Herder Veterinary Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa, and certified cat behavior consultant Amelia Wieber, owner of Caring Behavior LLC. Both are members of the Daily Paws Advisory Board.
1. Keep Fending off Fleas and Ticks
Unfortunately, cooler temperatures don't mean you can cool it on external parasite control. Flea and tick prevention is a year-round endeavor, says Tracey, as recent studies have shown that ticks are more active than you might think during the winter. According to Global Lyme Alliance, ticks remain active as long as temperatures are above freezing and the ground isn't frozen or snow covered.
Some ticks, like the black-legged tick, which can transmit Lyme disease, are particularly active during the fall. Moreover, Tracey adds that external parasites love going into homes when the weather cools down. "This means that even if you're not seeing as many of these pests outdoors, your pet may be more prone around your home."
2. Continue Giving Heartworms the Heave-ho
As with flea and tick prevention, fall isn't the time to push pause on protecting your pet from heartworms either. "While it's called heartworm 'prevention,' it actually works by killing any microfilaria (heartworm larvae) in your pet from the past 30 days," Tracey explains. "These larvae are transmitted by mosquitoes, and since we can't predict when the last mosquito of the year will drop dead, we also can't say when it's safe to take a break on heartworm protection."
Considering that heartworm disease is potentially fatal, year-round prevention is an easy, cost-effective way to ensure your pet's safety. And as a bonus, most heartworm preventives protect your pet against other worms like hookworms and roundworms, which can stay active during the autumn months as well.
3. Banish Back-to-School Boredom
Change can be hard on everyone, including your pets. Just when your dog or cat gets used to having company all day, every day, the house becomes empty and quiet again. Wieber recommends softening the transition by devoting time to play and bonding with your pet before you leave and once you get home, if possible. Investing in some food puzzle toys can also help keep your pet occupied while everyone is out, she adds.
Even with these extra attentions, your pet may still have problems adjusting. "Signs of feline separation distress include items knocked over as though the cat was panicking and running around the house, house soiling, and complaints of cat vocalizations from your neighbors," Wieber explains. Similarly, distressed dogs may bark or howl more than usual, urinate and defecate indoors, and chew or scratch inappropriate items (like your new couch). If you suspect your pet is suffering from separation anxiety, seek help from your veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist, or a certified behavior consultant. Wieber says they will often work as a team to help you and your pet through this challenging disorder.
4. Prevent Fall Decor From Becoming a Fall Feast
Picture a Pinterest-worthy fall front porch. Pumpkins piled high in every shape and size. Bumpy gourds in wild contortions. Golden bales of fresh, fragrant hay. Mums dotted with sunny blooms. It's a feast for the eyes, for sure, but not so much for your pet.
Sadly, porch-pleasing chrysanthemums (i.e. mums, daisies) are toxic to dogs and cats with the potential to cause vomiting, diarrhea, excess salivation, skin inflammation, and loss of coordination, according to the ASPCA. And while pumpkins, gourds, and hay aren't technically toxic, they can still cause problems. The ASPCA notes that toxic molds can grow on these fall favorites and that eating large amounts of seeds and hay can cause intestinal issues. Thus, the safest thing you can do is to keep your pet and your porch trimmings separate.
5. Beware of Halloween Dress-up Dangers
There's no denying that pets look cute in costumes, but Tracey recommends examining the practice in terms of your pet's safety and comfort. "First and foremost, it's important to select a costume that doesn't restrict your pet's airway and that doesn't have any potential choking hazards," she explains. "For instance, brachycephalic (smushed-faced) dog breeds like bulldogs shouldn't have any sort of costume that restricts their breathing or covers their face due to increased risk of respiratory issues. Similarly, a Lab shouldn't be dressed in a costume with dangly pieces that could become a snack."
However, it's worth noting that safety isn't synonymous with comfort, and Tracey says it's important to respect your pet's preferences and emotions. "Pets that are anxious or scared of a costume or having something on their body should not wear one for the holiday season," she says.
Wieber agrees. "Putting a costume on a cat is usually very scary and stressful," she explains. "Their movement can be restricted, making them feel like they're in a straight jacket. This is why they often shut down and freeze. Since it doesn't serve a purpose and can even cause a kitty unnecessary stress (which can lead to health problems and behavior disorders), it's not something I can recommend."
Obviously, every pet is unique and you may share your home with a dog or cat who doesn't mind (and perhaps even enjoys) donning dress-up clothes. If that's the case, Wieber offers one more safety tip: Always supervise your pet when they're wearing a costume. In addition to the potential hazards above, costumes can easily get caught and tangled up on items in your pet's environment.
6. Eliminate Haunted House Hazards
Before you transform your home into spooky season central, look at your decor through your pet's eyes, Wieber says. While you may see festive streamers, cute plastic pumpkins, glittery spider webs, and glowing paper lanterns, it's possible your pet will lump them all into one problematic category: chew toys.
Because your decorations weren't made for the mouths of pups or cats, Wieber says they may contain toxic glues or paints. And even if the pieces aren't toxic, if swallowed, they can cause life-threatening intestinal blockage. The fix? If you have a dog, keep your decorations out of their reach. If you have a cat, this is more difficult to accomplish indoors, which is why Wieber advises focusing your haunted house efforts on the outside of your home.
7. Ensure Halloween Is a Treat for Your Pet
The thought of trick-or-treaters on your front porch may fill your heart with joy, but there's a good chance the tradition fills your pet with dread. Strangers? In costumes? Ringing the doorbell? On repeat? The horror!
If you plan to host trick-or-treaters, start prepping your pet now. "In the weeks leading up to Halloween, pet parents for both dogs and cats can create a safe room (or separate rooms, if you have both) that they condition their pet to enjoy," Wieber explains. "I recommend a sound buffer like classical music, all of their favorite toys, vertical space for cats as well as a litter box, and some yummy treats in food puzzle toys to set the mood." First, she says you'll want to hang out in the safe room with your pet with the door closed. Then, you can start leaving your pet in there with their goodies for short periods of time and then longer periods if they're enjoying themselves. Ultimately, you're preparing a spot for your pet to go and chill when the doorbell is ringing.
Wieber adds that you can even start pairing a recording of the doorbell played at low volume with treats. "It's important that the recording is played quietly enough not to cause a reaction when you start," she continues. "Over time, you can increase the sound little by little while you continue to pair it with goodies. With enough patience and precise practice, you can turn the sound of the doorbell into a positive for your pet." Wieber notes that this process is termed desensitization (very quiet sound increased slowly) with counter-conditioning (pairing the sound with a treat).
8. Make Time to Microchip
Tracey says she highly recommends microchipping all pets. And before you dismiss your indoor cat as exempt from this safety tip, she says she especially recommends the procedure for this group and that microchipping can be especially crucial this time of year.
"The most common times that humane societies and animal rescue organizations report missing pets is around the holidays when more people are coming in and out of your home," she explains. "Indoor cats, who don't typically navigate the outdoors, may have a harder time finding their way back home if they accidentally escape." If your pet is already microchipped, fall is a good time to double-check that your contact information is still correct before the holidays hit.
9. Watch the Weather
While most dogs and cats have built-in fur coats, they aren't impervious to the cold. And depending on where you live, fall can get downright chilly. But how cold is too cold for pets? "Because the size, shape, fur, and body condition of dogs vary so much, it's difficult to pinpoint the exact temperature at which owners should worry," Tracey explains. "But in general, temperatures lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit for small dogs and less than 35 degrees Fahrenheit for large dogs should be a cue to start thinking about how comfortable your pet is outside."
Considering their size, the temperature threshold for cats should be set even higher. Tracey offers this simple rule of thumb: "Any conditions where you may be concerned about frostbite should apply to your pet as well, and booties, jackets, or other protective gear should be applied accordingly."
10. Walk the Walk Safely
Taking your dog for a run or walk in the fall presents fresh challenges. For starters, with fewer hours of sunlight in the day, there's a good possibility at least one of your outings will be in the dark. If possible, choose a well-lit area for your walks, be sure to put reflective gear on yourself and your pup, and always keep your dog on a leash. Headlamps are also handy for improving visibility.
Additionally, depending on where you live and where you exercise with your dog, you may need to watch out for potentially toxic fall flora:
- Apples: Generally safe for dogs and cats to eat, the seeds do contain very small amounts of cyanide. While cyanide toxicity is rare, pets can experience diarrhea and vomiting after eating apple parts. Moreover, dogs that try to eat spoiled apples that have been left to ferment on the ground are at risk of alcohol toxicity.
- Acorns: Though dogs and cats are unlikely to eat enough acorns to cause long-term damage, the ASPCA notes that these seeds contain high concentrations of tannins. When ingested, these tannins can cause gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea.
- Mushrooms: Wild mushrooms are tricky. Some are harmless. Many cause stomach upset. And some can cause serious, long-term damage, including death. Thus, the safest course of action is to regularly scan your pet's path for fresh fungi and to give them a wide berth if spotted.