A dog owner’s guide to autumn


15 October 2018
We take a look at what makes the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness so wonderful for our dogs.

As a nation we love to complain about the weather — in fact it is almost a national pastime!

For the past few years, we have moaned that we never get a decent summer, and then when we do, we moan that it is too hot! Well, for everyone who struggles with the summer heat, there is now the chance to celebrate the arrival of autumn — but how much do you actually know about this magical season, and what does it mean for your dogs?

  • Most people associate autumn with the changing colour of the leaves on the trees. As the days shorten and the sun’s rays lose their strength, the trees begin to close down their food production systems, and reduce the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves. Chlorophyll is the chemical that makes leaves green in order to capture the sunlight. As it declines, other chemicals dominate in the leaves, including beta-carotene, which is responsible for the colouring of carrots — hence the changing hues of the autumn leaves.

  • Fallen leaves are a lot of fun for you and your dog to play in, as you kick up showers of gold and rust — but don’t forget that piles of leaves can hide all kinds of hazards, from stones, to broken glass, dog poo, even hedgehogs, so be careful!
  • As the summer starts to become a memory, the days begin to get shorter as we move past the autumn equinox, which falls on either September 22 or 23. This marks the time when day and night are of equal length, after which the nights become longer than the days, until this is once more reversed at the spring equinox. This means dog walking times need to be altered, as you no longer have the luxury of bright early mornings and long, light evenings, but your dog still needs just as much exercise. However, after your walking is done, you do have the joy of spending late evenings with your dog in front of the fire. If you have to walk in the dark, look out your reflective clothing, dog leads, and collars, and maybe invest in a collar that lights up, and also a good torch.
  • With autumn comes lower temperatures, which means that, once again, you can head off on longer dog walks without worrying about your dog overheating. This is great news for the owners of those dogs whose greatest joy is spending all day out and about! While the temperatures are lower however, don’t think that means you can leave your dog in the car — even in autumn, cars can get hot surprisingly quickly.

  • Another great advantage of autumn is that the schools have gone back (until the Christmas break anyway!) and so all your favourite dog-walking spots are far quieter. You have more space for games with your dog, a spot of training, and no danger of your canine companion gate-crashing a picnic!
  • Beaches often have a ‘no dogs’ rule in the summer, but now that it’s autumn, you can get back to the seaside and enjoy long walks and games on the sand (and very often have the entire beach to yourself again after the craziness of summer). Check beaches for their access policies; maybe it’s a good time to book a weekend break at a beachside, dog-friendly hotel, and explore what the autumnal countryside has to offer.
While there’s lots to enjoy at this time of year, there are some potential problems you need to be aware of in autumn, too.
  • The first is an early autumn hazard and that is the dreaded harvest mite. Almost invisible, these tiny orange specks can be seen if you look very closely between your dog’s toes. They are responsible for intense itching and chewing, and can cause your dog untold misery. If your dog is chewing his paws, take him to your vet, as while these mites drive your dog crazy, they are easily treated (although sometimes surprisingly persistent).
  • Autumn is also a time for mushrooms and berries, some of which are poisonous to dogs. If you think your dog has eaten something he shouldn’t (especially mushrooms), take a photo of the item he has eaten (if he’s left any), and contact your vet immediately.
  • The changing of the season often brings rain, and, of course, mud! Make sure you have looked out your wet weather gear and your wellies, and check these for leaks before the rain starts; often being stored during the summer can lead to cracks and splits appearing, and you don’t want to discover these when you are knee-deep in a puddle. Make sure you have some mild dog shampoo and washing facilities for your dog, too. If you put protective clothing of any kind on your dog, to keep out the rain or the cold, it’s time to dig it out from that cupboard, and check it over.
  • Colder nights and frosty starts can mean icy roads, which means the gritter trucks will be out to try to prevent slippery (or even snowy) roads. This grit and rock salt can injure paws, causing pain and irritation, especially if it becomes compacted with snow or ice as well. It can also be toxic to dogs if they lick it off their paws, causing everything from thirst, to vomiting, lethargy, and, in severe cases, kidney damage. If you’ve been walking anywhere where there is salt on the road or pavement, make sure you wash your dog’s paws, legs, and stomach when you get home. If you think your dog has eaten any rock salt, contact your vet.
  • And, of course, autumn brings the fireworks season — and that is a whole new set of issues for your dog. It’s a little late for you to be preparing your dog for Bonfire Night this year (you should have started when your dog was a puppy or, at the very least, in the summer), but if you know your dog is going to have problems with the bangs and crashes of the season, contact a behaviourist who can help you.

Every time of year can be enjoyable for dog owners, but there is something magical about autumn, so get out there and have some fun!

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