Planning for Cooler Weather

As kids start going back to school and the leaves begin changing colors, the temperature outside begins to drop. Whether you are a cool weather fan or not, it is important to be prepared for the cooler weather for both you and your pet. The cooler weather brings many toxins that can be found in compost/mulch piles, holiday foods, antifreeze, decorations, and rodenticides.


While watching the leaves change is a beautiful sight, raking up the leaves that have fallen is not nearly as fun. Additionally, these piles of leaves pose a danger to your pet. These leaf piles contain decaying organic matter and is a good home to many microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and molds. These molds may include “tremorgenic mycotoxins” which can cause neurologic signs in your dog such as stumbling, seizures, vomiting and drooling.


Many people’s favorite part of the cold weather is the upcoming holidays and holiday foods. It is imperative to be cautious of the foods your dog is exposed to. Chocolate contains the toxin, theobromine. Small exposures may result in GI upset and some agitation. More severe exposures can cause increased heart rate, tremors, seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, and elevated body temperatures. Sugar free food items contain a toxic substance called xylitol. It can be found in gum, sugar free candy, and some peanut butters. Grapes and raisins are toxic to your pet’s kidneys. Ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, stumbling gait, and kidney damage. Onions, garlic, and chive are toxic to your pet’s GI tract and blood cells. You may see pale mucous membranes, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, and jaundice. Leftovers can be very high in fat and lead to a condition called pancreatitis that would require hospitalization.


While the temperature begins to drop below the freezing point during the night, many people will begin putting antifreeze in their vehicles. Antifreeze contains a very sweet tasting but very toxic ingredient called ethylene glycol. Animals will initially present with neurologic or GI signs such as nausea, vomiting, wobbly gait (ataxia), or seizures. They then can develop an increased heart rate and respiratory rate. Eventually if untreated they will have irreversible kidney damage that is lethal to your pet in 72 hours.


Decorations pose a hazard if they are anywhere your pet may be able to reach. Your pet can eat the decoration and is at risk for a gastro-intestinal obstruction. If not caught early, this will require surgery and is potentially fatal to your pet.


There are a wide variety of rodenticides used to get rid of pests in the colder weather. Older rodenticides contain an anti-coagulant, which makes your pet susceptible to spontaneous bleeding. Newer rodenticides cause neurological problems such as trembling and ataxia or high blood calcium levels that may damage the kidneys and result in kidney failure. Either way, it is essential to contact your veterinarian if you are suspicious your pet got into rodenticide.


Hypothermia will occur when your pet is in the cold for too long. Small dogs and old dogs are the most susceptible to hypothermia. It is important to monitor how long your pet is outside in cold temperatures to prevent hypothermia.

Even if you are extremely careful, accidents happen. If you are ever concerned your pet ingested something toxic, please seek immediate veterinary care or call Pet Poison Helpline® to see if the ingestion warrants a trip to the veterinarian.



Written by:

Written by Kristen Rule, DVM student extern, Iowa State University, Class of 2023