Urgent: Seasonal Poison Alert for All Pet Owners

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

fall and winter pet tips

Story at-a-glance -

  • The winter chill is here across much of the U.S., and each change of seasons brings its own potential hazards for four-legged family members
  • Things to keep furry family members away from during the fall and winter months: school supplies, antifreeze, rodent bait, toxic mushrooms and snakes preparing to hibernate

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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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

+ Sources and References