By Tiffany L. Mitchener, DVM
With the long days of summer firmly behind us, we turn our attention to the arrival of autumn. Fall is that special time of year when the days get shorter, the nights feel crisper, pumpkin patches abound, and the leaves show off their true colors. Families return to more structured schedules, Halloween decorations get dusted off, and pumpkin spice treats appear on every store shelf. With the arrival of a new season, what special considerations should we make for our animal friends?
Back to School
The return of school brings structure and new activities to every family’s household, but it can also mean longer hours alone for the family pets. Make sure your animals have activities of their own. Place paper bags around a room for cats or put food in puzzle feeders for dogs. Remember that it is important to care for our animals’ needs, too. Making sure that pets have clean litter boxes or routine times for necessary eliminations will keep a household running smoothly.
Now is a great time to make sure that your pet is getting the exercise that she needs. Add a daily walk for the dog to your family calendar. Kids coming home from school can throw the ball for the dog or use a fishing pole toy with the cat. Have students read out loud to the family pet. Pets are non-judgmental and will provide a “safe place” for students to practice their oral reading skills, whether it is Dr. Seuss or Shakespeare.
With the start of school use care with school supplies around pets. Dogs, especially, seem to like the taste of glue. String, pipe cleaners, feathers, and pom-poms are a few craft items that can be fascinating to cats. It is important that students remember to be mindful of craft items and clean up thoroughly once the art project is finished. Never leave art supplies unattended.
Finally, with the kids back in school, now is a great time to focus on the family dog and cat. Are they overdue for their annual exams? Are they up-to-date on their vaccinations? Make that appointment with your veterinarian to arrange for a physical exam for your pet and to discuss any concerns that may be lingering from the busy summer.
Autumn can bring dramatic weather to the coast of California. Early fall often has our warmest days of the year. Plan for your animals accordingly. Be careful not to leave animals locked in hot cars. Make sure outdoor pets have access to shade and fresh water. Do not exercise animals in the heat of the day.
In contrast, late autumn often marks the beginning of our rainy season. Make sure that outside shelters are clean and intact. Remember that darkness descends earlier each evening. Be sure to shelter your cats inside prior to sunset to protect them from predators. If possible, walk your dog earlier in the day, or invest in bright-colored clothing, reflective vests, or blinking collar lights to improve traffic safety for you and your dog.
Autumn brings falling leaves and plenty of yard work. It can be a fun time to share the yard with your pets, but use care to keep it a safe place. Pick up tools after gardening. Keep lawn products and chemicals stored in a safe place. Pick up fallen fruit, especially apples, whose leaves, seeds and stems can be toxic. Use care not to use cocoa mulch in the yard. Many dogs are tempted to eat this sweet-smelling product which can lead to a deadly chocolate toxicity.
Halloween can be a very magical time of year. To keep it safe for all, here are a few tips for our pets this special holiday:
- Use care with costumes. If you plan to dress up your pet in a costume, first make sure that she is a willing participant. Check that costumes are not too constricting, vision obstructing, or overly warm. Watch for any small parts or strings that could easily be swallowed.
- Keep decorations out of your pet’s reach. Make sure that open flames in jack-o’-lanterns are in a safe place. Reusable LED lights are a safer option.
- Do not leave candy out. Chocolate candy, especially, can be toxic to dogs who often find it irresistible. Candy wrappers and lollipop sticks can cause severe gastrointestinal damage if swallowed. To be safe, keep the Halloween candy stored in a pet-proofed container or cupboard.
- Keep pets safe and away from the front door. Dogs, our resident guardians, may want to protect their homes from trick-or-treaters and may be triggered to act aggressively by the doorbell. Both cats and dogs may look for an escape. Keep pets locked away from the activity of the front door. To help reduce the terror of a lost pet, make sure your pets are microchipped with your up-to-date contact information.
Enjoy the changing of the seasons with your animals as the carefree days of summer give way to the autumn comforts of school, family, home, and pumpkin treats. Happy fall, everyone!