Gazette Vet: Fall is Awesome

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Whit Andersen in Alaska

Fall is here! If you listen you can hear the collective sigh from all the dogs out there celebrating the final end of the “dog days of summer” and quite a few dog days of September, too. Who is not energized by the cooler temps, autumn colors, lower humidity, and a general calling to be outdoors?  Fall is definitely the best season to be a dog—trust me, they tell me these things! But they also tell me there’s a few downsides, too.

Awesome things about fall:

Cooler temps.  Although the phrase “the dog days of summer” actually originated with the ancient Greeks’ tracking of the constellation Sirius, the association with hot, lazy dogs seems more plausible to us modern folk and it has stuck around. It is tough being a dog in the Virginia summer!  Walks at 7 a.m. are hot. Walks at 9 p.m. are hot. Our homes with the A/C on are still hot. If there is one overriding thing that really limits a dog’s activity, it is the heat.

My family and I were fortunate to be able to take a trip to Alaska this summer and we took a side trip one day to a summer camp for sled dogs. The dogs,  all Alaskan Huskies, were awesome. These particular teams regularly compete in 500-mile races in the winter. We were in awe of it all. I talked with them about exercising dogs in Virginia, and how hard it was to do anything with them in the summer heat. I always feel like I’m being conservative when I tell people not to take your dogs running when it’s over 70 degrees F. I asked them about the ideal temperatures for running their sled dogs. “Negative 20 degrees F is perfect.  They can run all day at -20. -10 is ok, but when it gets close to 0 degrees, we have to really ease up and take lots of breaks or they’ll get overheated.” Wow. No wonder my labs still act like they’re dying when I take them trail running in 50 degree temps!

Every dog is thrilled that the fall temps have arrived. No more sleeping on the slate and hard tiles to keep cool!

More hiking. Piggybacking on #1, fall is a time when we are more motivated to get outside and go hiking in the woods, one of the top favorite activities according to dogs everywhere.  Cool temps, new scents, and motivated owners make for happy weekends and great family excursions all around. Dogs love when their whole pack is on the move, so don’t forget your dogs on those fall family hikes and camping trips.

Fewer snakes and bees.  There are only two animals that make me a little nervous about traipsing around in the woods. Not bears, not coyotes, not rabid bobcats. It’s yellow jackets (aka ground wasps) and snakes, and August and September are definitely yellow jacket and snake season! I’m no entomologist, so I can’t explain why, but every late summer/early fall, yellow jackets seem to build their nests in the ground right near popular hiking trails such as the Appalachian Trail or in Mint Springs. The unsuspecting group of hikers goes by and suddenly gets nailed by aggressive wasps!  Also, I’m sorry to say, but rattlesnakes definitely live in Crozet. I’ve seen them in Mint Springs Park and up in Shenandoah, and copperheads are pretty much everywhere. As a vet, I see bee stings and snake bites frequently, so let’s just give a big praise for October when these troublesome creatures finally sign off for the year.

Not awesome things about fall:

Allergies. Did you know that the number one problem we veterinarians see, by far, is allergic skin disease? All day, all year, dogs are coming in with ear infections, rashes, scabs, and hair loss, mostly due to allergies that affect their skin. Just as for us, the spring and fall are the worst times of year, with heavy pollen accompanying the season’s change.  For many dogs, fall is the time when they start itching, licking, and chewing and have to see the vet for help.

Fleas and ticks are still doing quite well. Most people don’t realize it, but the flea season keeps rocking until we get a few hard frosts, which usually isn’t until late October or early November. Meanwhile, those flea eggs that wild animals have dropped all over your back yard are doing just fine and just waiting for your dog or cat to walk by. Ticks really have no season. If it’s above 32 degrees, they are more than happy to climb out of the leaf litter and find a new home. Cooler temps and increased outdoor activity combined with pet owners letting their guard down about flea and tick preventatives lead to a lot of fall flea and tick problems. Keep using the flea and tick meds!

Acorns. Okay, this isn’t the most common thing I see, but I have given at least three dog owners a very expensive acorn—one their dog consumed that got stuck in their intestines and which I had to remove surgically. Many of us have acorns and other nuts and seeds that fall into our yards this time of year, and dogs will eat anything!  Sometimes they get obstructed, sometimes they just get an upset stomach and vomit in the middle of the night (in your bedroom, of course). This seems like a hopeless battle, but if they seem to be chowing down on the acorns and nuts, watch to make sure they don’t get sick.

Get out there and enjoy this amazing season in this amazing place we call home, Crozet, Virginia!

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John Andersen DVM
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