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Caring for your pets in autumn and winter

Posted by AMH Team

9m read time

Nov 9, 2021

The dog days of summer are behind us, but for pet owners the dog days of autumn and winter can be just as tricky to navigate. As the leaves on the trees turn from green to a bountiful tapestry of colors, there’s more pollen and dust in the air, which can lead to all kinds of sniffles and sneezes for your pet.

Falling leaves also give your pets a chance to get into more mischief. A pile of leaves can hide wildlife inside, most notably ticks. And as those falling leaves give way to snow and cold, you’ll need to practice extra winter pet care tips to make sure your furry friends are comfortable and safe outside.

On top of that, the fall and winter months introduce potential pitfalls with more guests in the home. During Halloween, Thanksgiving and all throughout the holiday season, you may be welcoming more people to your door. Even if you’re not hosting anyone, there’s often additional traffic in the neighborhood, and the noise might spook or disrupt your pets.

Luckily, if you’re prepared for the challenges, you’ll do just fine. Here are a few things to look out for, plus our favorite strategies for seasonal pet care.


Tick, tick, tick, tick on the watch


One of the most important fall pet care tips revolves around ticks, a spider relative that comes out in droves during the autumn months. In October and November, deer tick nymphs molt into fully grown adults. These ticks can spread Lyme disease, which is bad for you and your pet. Both male and female ticks will feed on a host, with the female laying eggs after feeding. 


You can prep your home with pet safe tick treatment for the yard and around the house. Ticks thrive in long blades of grass, so regularly remove brush, leaves, weeds, and other debris from the edge of your lawn and from any walls and wood piles. Trimming tree branches and shrubs to give your lawn more light, particularly around the edges, can also help prevent tick infestations.


If you suspect your pet might have ticks, use a pair of tweezers to remove them, ideally within 36 hours. Grab the tick as close to your pet’s skin as you can, and gently pull the tick in an upward motion, away from your pet’s body. Once you’ve removed them, disinfect the area(s) where the ticks were. Never touch a tick with your bare hands! They can easily spread disease from contact with your skin.


After removing the ticks, take your pet to your vet for a diagnosis. Your vet will likely prescribe a shampoo or other medication to help treat the ticks, and they’ll recommend a tick and pest preventative. It’s good practice to always use flea and tick preventatives, so get in the habit early in your pet’s life. 


Keep an eye on the temperature


Depending on where you live, fall can bring exceptionally varied temperatures. You may have 80-degree and sunny weather one day, and chilly 50-degree temps the next. When the tide turns cold, make sure your furry friends are ready for the change. A few precautions can reduce the risks of frostbite or hypothermia.


To start, limit the time you spend outdoors during the colder months of the year. Try to time walks and outdoor play to coincide with when the sun is shining, and keep that outside activity quick and efficient. 


Consider putting sweaters and snowshoes on your pet’s feet—keeping paws safe is a critical component of winter season pet care. When the ground is slick and icy, it’s hard to spot potential debris in the lawn and you don’t want your pet stepping somewhere they shouldn’t. Walking on ice can lead to slips, which in turn can lead to strains, sprains, and tears. When it’s exceptionally slippery, take your pet outside on a leash so they’re less likely to run around and injure themselves.


If your pet says no to booties, you can look at alternatives like ice melts (look for ones free of salt and chloride), sand, dirt, or wood ash to apply to your pet’s paws before they walk in the winter snow. It’s also wise to wash your pet’s paws in lukewarm water and dry them thoroughly afterward to keep some pep in their step. That prep takes a little extra time and effort, but you’re making both your pet and the environment safer.


No matter what the temperature is like outside, ensure your pets have plenty of water readily available to drink. They need to stay hydrated regardless of whether they’re hot or cold.


Inside, give your pets plenty of cozy blankets and bedding so they can warm themselves up. Ideally, keep the bed off of a cold floor or uncarpeted tile, and certainly keep it away from heaters and radiators, which can easily lead to burns if a pet gets too close—and try to maintain consistency so they feel comfortable. Your pet’s skin can become dry and flaky during the winter, too. By applying a moisturizer like coconut oil, either directly on the skin or as a supplement during meals, you’ll keep your pet’s fur shiny and healthy.


If you notice your pet seems to be acting strangely, don’t hesitate to call your vet. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, depression, lethargy, and weakness, with more severe symptoms being stiffening muscles, slower breathing, and a lack of response to stimuli or food. Frostbite can lead to pale or gray skin and extreme pain as the skin warms back up.


Pay special attention to grooming


As humans, we spend a fair bit of time grooming ourselves. And yes, while a certain hairstyle or a bit of makeup might be more of a vanity move than anything else, we also do plenty to keep ourselves healthy. 


Your pets do the same when they groom their fur and paws; they’re looking for focus areas to make their skin feel better. When you’re giving your pets a bath, dry them completely. Of course, many pets immediately like to sprint around the room as soon as they’re free from the bath, so you’ll have to practice your rodeo skills in wrangling them up to thoroughly dry them off. That helps avoid potential irritations on their skin and the effects of mild hypothermia.


Regularly brush your pet’s fur to avoid matting or clumps on the skin. Brushing fur helps sweep away debris or identify bites your pet may have picked up while outside. Excessive matting will cause your pet to both feel uncomfortable, regularly paw or bite at the area, and possibly lead to other health complications. You can also schedule regular grooming appointments; in more drastic situations, shaving the fur may be an option. 


Beware the holiday celebrations


As the air becomes crisper, the holidays become more bountiful—and the potential for pet snafus rises exponentially. Taking care of pets during a pandemic is one thing; taking care of them during Halloween is another. Follow these holiday pet safety tips to make sure the only scary thing you come across is A Nightmare on Elm Street.


Chances are you can’t go through Halloween without having at least some chocolate ending up at your house, whether you’re buying candy for trick-or-treaters or your kids come home with a pumpkin full of goodies. Or maybe the isolation of quarantining during the pandemic has given you a sweet tooth. 


Unfortunately, while a bit of chocolate is okay in moderation for you, it’s extremely toxic and potentially lethal for your dogs and cats. Xylitol is another ingredient frequently found in Halloween candy that can be dangerous for your pets. Don’t let them eat either of those foods (or any of these ones) and make sure to scoop up any candy off the floor or out of places that might be easily accessible for your pets. That includes tables with chairs nearby—a dog or cat can easily jump up and get into the Halloween stash. 


The same risks can occur during Thanksgiving and winter holidays, too—you might be eating more chocolate or sweet and salty dishes, and many holiday parties include food being left out for a few hours so people can fill up a plate at their leisure. While that buffet style is a convenient way to serve food during the holidays, it’s also a welcoming target for a pet.


Foods aren’t the only concern during holidays, though. The frequent foot traffic of trick-or-treaters and general mischief makers might spook your pets, and every time you open your door, you’re potentially inviting them to bolt outside. Keep your pets inside as much as possible during the evening, and consider leaving them in a room with a closed door. After all, you never know when a trick-or-treater will walk by dressed like a ham—and what pet can resist that?


Pet costumes are also a frequent sight on Halloween and other holidays. Though your pet may look extra cute in one, smaller parts of a costume could be a choking hazard, especially if your pet tends to chew on things. The costume could also lead to danger within the house; for example, dressing a dog up like a dinosaur introduces extra width and a tail they’re not normally used to. They don’t know how to account for that additional size, and may knock over decorations—though it sounds like something out of a horror film, a misplaced candle could tip over and light an entire curtain on fire.


Finally, black cats are synonymous with Halloween. Sometimes people will try to capture or play tricks on them to get in the “spirit” of the holiday. Keep an extra close eye on your cat so any mischief makers walk right on by.


Other pet tips for fall and winter


As you’re preparing your home and yard for the end of the year, here are a few other winter and fall pet safety tips to consider:


    • Watch for rodents. Both dogs and cats are big fans of attacking rodents, and if they spot one, they might go chasing after it. While your pet proudly bringing a mouse or rat into your home is haunting enough, rodenticides and other cold weather poisons can cause even more damage. If you or a neighbor uses rodenticides to poison these pests, keep them inaccessible to your pets. 


    • Avoid toxic antifreeze. Many people give their car a tune-up in fall to prepare for the cold weather. Antifreeze, also known as engine coolant, keeps a car’s radiator from freezing. It can be very beneficial for your vehicle, but harmful to your pets. If you spill, make sure to keep your dog away from the mess and clean it up immediately. You may also want to consider switching to a more environmentally friendly antifreeze. Coolants made from propylene glycol are significantly less toxic than ethylene glycol coolants. 


    • Clean up school supplies. Peanut butter and jelly. Spaghetti and meatballs. Kids and messy rooms. These are classic combinations, but they’re all dangerous for your pets if they chow down. Common school supplies like markers, crayons, glue, and stickers may have toxic components to them, and they’re likely to cause upset stomachs and blockages if ingested. 


  • Plan ahead for travel. Are you traveling at some point during the holidays? Even if it’s only for a few days, pet sitters are in high demand. Don’t wait until the last minute to lock in a sitter, whether a professional or a friend. The same goes for groomers, as schedules fill up quickly and flexibility is often limited.


Prepare your pets for the elements and festivities of the seasons for a happy and healthy home. The best part? They know you’re looking out for them and they’ll thank you for your care with extra cuddles.

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