Okay, so I am about to write a few things that might annoy you…in fact, they annoy me, too. However, they are things that must be said in order to help all of you dog loving people ensure your puppos have the best autumn season yet. And though I’ve already written articles with tips for optimal dog walking experiences, there is more that must be said. I’m not doing this just because the autumn is arriving in its full and colorful glory, but because of a bunch of videos that sprang up over the last few days on Instagram.
In the videos, a charming lab named Stella shows offer her leaf pile leaping skills and is, quite simply, overflowing with joy. In fact, one series of clips shows nothing but Stella’s tail happily wagging while the rest of her is hidden in the leaves.
And so, you might ask just what is the problem? I have NO problem with the videos or the many similar videos that have appeared. I am NOT a horrible killjoy. What I did notice is that Stella, and the other puppos flinging their bodies into these piles (without any concern for their own physical well being), did not get an “all’s clear” from their owners before making the leap.
As my readers might recall, I grew up in a home that gave Dr. Doolittle’s house a run for its money. Ducks, racoons, fawns, dogs, goats, cats…it goes on from there! Anyway, life in the country meant big piles of leaves and lots of time raking and moving them to the compost pile area. My siblings and I would have fun jumping in the piles, but even more fun watching our Great Dane, Heidi, clumsily throw herself into the mix. Unfortunately, one autumn afternoon as we were raking the leaves, Heidi took a flying leap and landed snout first on a large stick. She yelped and ran. It took us half of an hour to get close enough to see shed badly hurt her mouth and one of her eyes.
So, one of the main problems with letting your puppo leap blindly into a big old pile of dried leaves is that the leap is just that – blind. You don’t have to stop them from enjoying the fun, though. All it takes is a few moments of your time walking through and sifting around for sticks that could harm an open eye, open mouth, ear canal, and so on.
In fact, you’ll want to do this for any living creature aiming to make a death-defying leap into those leaves. After all, kids, cats, goats, the odd adult or two…anyone who goes head first or throws themselves into leaves is open to danger.
Are those the only threats lingering in the leaves? Sadly, no, and so we need to consider the few other hazards and what to do if your pups happen to encounter them.
The Fungus Among Us
Autumn in my neck of the woods gets slightly cold and damp. We happily don sweaters and head outside to do yard work, go on hikes and all the rest. This weather may be super comfortable, but it is also ideal mushroom growing weather, too. And that means that in those piles of leaves (as well as just about anywhere else your dog might go) is a good place to spot fungi and all kinds of wild mushrooms.
As one expert has noted, dog owners should “take a moment each day, before letting your dog outside into the backyard or before heading out for your walk, to check your yard for wild mushrooms and remove and dispose of them. Mushrooms can sprout up overnight, so it’s important to check daily.” Am I also suggesting that you do a sort of pre-screening in the woods or out on nature trails? No, simply because that is an impossible task to manage.
Instead, you’ll always want to:
- Keep your dog on a harness, OR ensure that your dog is adept at all of the verbal commands needed when they are off leash. For example, “leave it”, “no”, and “come” are some of the best commands for keeping dogs safe from potentially harmful materials
- Do a periodic scan of any area to be sure that any fallen nuts or fruits that contain potential toxins are taken dealt with accordingly. As an example, apple seeds contain arsenic, and a dog might mindlessly ingest a fallen apple right along with the seeds.
- If the dog is off leash, never allow them out of site where they can gobble up anything, drink potentially foul water, or encounter animals grumpily heading into hibernation
Possible toxins can be found in leaf piles, at the base of trees and out in the woodlands. That means you’ll need to be both aware of them, and know how to address such issues if confronted.
What should you do if you think a dog has eaten something it shouldn’t have? You’ll need to keep an eye out for symptoms of toxin ingestion. These include:
- Labored breathing
- Black stool or bloody diarrhea
- Loss of appetite and/or coordination
- Changes in their pupils
- Yellow discoloration in the eye
If any such issues arise within a few hours of the suspected ingestion, take your dog to the vet immediately, or to an emergency treatment service. You cannot give toxins even a minute of extra time as they can cause everything from organ damage to death.
The Pests at Their Bests
Do you begin to slack off with flea and tick treatments in the fall? A lot of folks do, and it makes perfect sense. The weather is cold, mosquitoes seems to have gone the way of the Dodo bird (if only!) and your worries about insect pests are diminished. Yet, it might surprise or even shock you to know that fleas actually hit peak season in the fall. This is because the outdoor temperatures have to hit the low thirties (i.e. freezing) for many days and nights before the flea populations die off.
Even then, the shelter of the (you guessed it) leaves, can keep them warmer and give them a bit of extra time to remain active. Dogs that spend greater periods of time outdoor in the autumn weather are also often dogs that experience late season infestations of ticks.
To avoid the issue is very easy. Just keep their regular flea prevention treatments going until the first snow flies and sticks or until your area of the world has had four to five days of 30 degree conditions (or colder).
You might also want to consider moving your leaf piles out of easy reach and even in shadier areas that experience the cold a bit faster than those wide open, sun soaked lawns were so many leaf piles end up! This way, the leaves are damp, matted and unlikely to harbor fleas or ticks for any great length of time in the fall.
A Case of the Sniffles
And just as you or I might endure problems with pollen, ragweed, and mold allergies in the autumn, so too can your dogs. In fact, we have a lot of the same seasonal allergies. Whether it is an allergy to the grass or dust, the pollen or anything else outdoors, it only gets worse if you get down into it. In other words, if you have allergies and go snout first into a big pile of allergens, you’re likely to have some problems later on that same day.
Dogs can have watery eyes, runny noses, itchy and scratchy skin conditions, and ear irritation (that leads to infection) from a single afternoon of jumping around in leaves. You can opt to let them have their fun, but you’ll then have to immediately give them a bath to remove the allergens from their fur, ears, and between their toes. You can also pack some dog wipes with you as you head out for autumn hikes and rub down the dog when the leaf pile jumping is finished!
After all, if you skip this step and also suffer allergies, you’ll find that your home becomes a safe haven to those allergens, too. All of the pollen, dust and other irritants will begin to trigger everyone’s allergies. So wipes and bathing tend to be the best ways to allow your pup to have the leaf pile leaps and enjoy them without allergic reactions.
However, if you do find that your dog has respiratory reactions for a great period of time afterward, it may be unwise to let them engage in a lot of leaf pile jumping since it can lead to serious health issues.
Another one of the issues that we so easily overlook when we allow dogs (and ourselves) to jump head long into big, cushy piles of leaves is that they can also be full of irritating and even poisonous plants. As a simple example of this, I give you the “conker”. I grew up in an area with chestnut trees in great abundance. Now, you might think of a chestnut as a smooth nut that tastes delicious when roasted or added to all kinds of autumn recipes. However, they do not fall from trees that way. They are, instead, covered in a spiked shell that looks like a medieval torture device. Step on one or land on one with your elbow (yes, I get very specific here because I might have had an experience of that kind as a kid), and you’ll never forget it.
Imagine your dog stomping on a conker with a bare foot or, even worse, ingesting red maple leaves. They are the most brilliant of the read autumn leaves, but they contain compounds that impair red blood cell function in a dog. Conkers also contain poison, the substance known as aesculin, and though it has to be consumed in great quantities to pose a problem, it is a poison lingering in the leaf pile!
Acorns are also a threat as they too can cause digestive problems, but even more significantly is the fact that they are a major chocking hazard as they can get lodged in the throat or block the intestines.
And Then There Was One…One Really Scary One
The final risk you may want to consider when allowing dogs their autumn romps is the fact that snakes are around. In my neck of the woods we have rattlesnakes and a variety known as Copperheads – both toxic and pretty scary to find when you don’t expect it. These guys don’t deserve to be harassed or removed from their natural setting, and so it is up to you to understand where snake hazards exist.
One of the most common areas that snakes like to head when the air temperatures dip is stone walls. The stones hold the heat they absorbed from the day’s sunlight, and give the snake a nice, dark and secure spot to relax. However, a lot of us pile up leaves in wood piles and stone wall areas – and that is where dogs rooting about in the leaves can run into trouble with resident snakes. Not only can they get bitten by the snakes, but they can also die from some snake bites. Depending upon the breed, it may be that you have to remove leaves almost as soon as you are done raking them, or you may need to avoid putting leaves anywhere close to a snake’s common residence or autumn habitat.
Enjoying the Season
I know. I’ve kind of bummed you out and left you slightly paranoid. However, that is not the intention. What I’m hoping to achieve here is a bit of heightened awareness. Dogs can and should go flying into piles of leaves if they get a kick out of it. Watching those videos shows that lots of dogs have nothing but pure joy during such play sessions. Just take the time to make sure the piles of leaves are safe and then give the dog a quick bath or rubdown afterward. This will let you make sure they did not injure themselves and it eliminates allergens.
It takes an extra few minutes to implement a “leaf pile safety routine” but it allows everyone to have fun and remain safe and healthy at all times!