Autumn walks warning

Words by:
Matt Limb OBE
Featured in:
September 2022

Matt Limb OBE looks at the risks to our dogs’ health that will be lurking in the hedgerows in the coming weeks.

It is that time of year again, the late rays of summer sun encouraging you to get out with the dog for an extended walk, knowing that in just a few weeks we risk a change in the weather and the need for a heavier coat. Add to that the hedgerows are starting to give an abundance of fruit, ripe for the picking. So, what better way to spend an afternoon with your faithful friend, the dog? But as we know, this time of year comes with health warnings and risks for our dogs.

The grass seed problem is normally prevalent during the summer months, but the hot and dry summer we have enjoyed appears to have extended this into the early autumn. The grass seeds that sit at the top of long grass stems can easily brush off onto your dog during walks. These seeds may look small and innocuous, but the damage they can cause as they penetrate your dog’s skin can be incredibly painful for them, plus costly to sort with the help of a vet.

The grass seed problem for dogs cannot be stressed enough; the damage caused by a grass seed piercing your dog’s skin, often around the pads on their paws, is very easily done. As we know we should always check for grass seeds, especially if our pets have been running in the grass (which at this time of year is almost inevitable), as they are so easily picked up on your dog’s coat.

Always remove the seeds promptly, especially from the pads and between their toes, and look around the eyes and ears. Remember that grass seeds can have the equivalent of a small barb, like a fishing hook, on them and once they puncture the skin can be hard to get out; then they can soon become infected and create a seriously painful injury.

Remember, all dogs can be affected by grass seeds, but the risk is greater in breeds with feathers on their legs and around the toes, such as my English Springer Spaniels. For this reason, I keep the hair around their ears and paws trimmed to minimise the risk of grass seeds burrowing into the skin.

After checking our faithful friend for grass seeds – a matter of prevention being better than the cure – it may be timely to remind ourselves of some other risks to our dogs.

Numerous plants are regarded as dangerous to dogs; not all will be fatal, but even so, they can cause a serious risk to their health. At the top of this list are most bulbs – that common old garden bulb, the very ones we sit and plant in early spring. How often have you planted your bulbs to find the dog digging them up a day or so later? Whilst we’re talking about garden plants, remember that the leaves of tomato plants, plus the stem and unripe fruit, are poisonous to dogs – as are the leaves of our rhubarb plant.

We may have some control over our dogs running around in our gardens, but we may not always be so sure what they are picking up when out enjoying the countryside. Here there is a mass of fungi that will do them harm – plus the ones that always surprise me, acorns and conkers, which we will soon start to see falling under their respective trees.

With warm weather and active walks we get hot dogs, who are always ready to drink from a puddle – but how clean and safe is that puddle of water? In dry weather, I will call the dogs in and stop them from drinking in puddles. My thinking here is that in dry conditions the water will evaporate faster leaving the residue far more heavily polluted. In wetter weather, the risk is less as you have an abundance of puddles, so literally diluting the problem, but there is still a risk.

My biggest puddle fear is the most innocent looking of all fluids: the car’s anti-freeze. I have seen this leaking from old vehicles and dripping into the slowly drying out puddles, leaving a highly toxic and lethal mix for any dog. Anti-freeze contains ethylene glycol, which can also be found in brake fluid and car windscreen wash, along with most variants of hydraulic fluid. More worryingly, it is added to water features and ornamental fountains in gardens. When ingested by dogs, ethylene glycol is regarded as one of the most common life-threatening poisons seen by vets. Remember, as little as a teaspoon can kill a small to medium-sized dog, as it rapidly causes kidney failure.

Poisoning in any form is one of the great risks we face day-to-day, not only for our dogs but also members of our family. In all cases, prevention is better than any cure. With good common-sense procedures in the storage and use of dangerous fluids and substances, we can reduce the risk.

But should the worst happen, early intervention is vital and being prepared for the worst, whilst always hoping for the best, is the best policy. If you think your dog has ingested any form of poison, get them straight to the vet. Do not delay. If your fears are not proven and the dog is clear, great; but if not, that early intervention may just save their life.

Sadly, we are often unaware of what our dogs pick up, or what may be toxic – we and they are just too busy with our afternoon walking up the hedgerows. So, as well as doing the grass seed check we should always keep an eye on our dogs for any change.

If you know your dogs, their behaviours and demeanour, it will come as second nature. But any of the following tell-tale signs should be noted: vomiting or diarrhoea along with excessive salivation or a lack of appetite and nausea. It is not a full and comprehensive list, but they can be regarded among the key signs that your dog may have ingested something toxic. Additionally, look for any weakness or a lethargic nature which is out of character in your dog.

Reading back through this could put many a dog owner off ever taking their dog out again, but it should not. I hope it acts as a reminder of the risks we see every day, around the house, the garden and when out enjoying our countryside, which can be taken for granted, but can in certain circumstances become dangerous to our dogs.

Whatever you do, make sure you always have time for your dog and enjoy the coming autumn days together. Just be mindful of the risks that could be lurking along the way.

Photographs: Matt Limb OBE

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