Dangers when walking your dog

Poisonous plants, venomous animals, extreme temperatures and disease carrying parasites are all things that dogs and their owners could come across on their walks together. So, whether you’re out for a stroll with your dog in the countryside, a meadow, or in a park, there are several dangers you should be aware of.

A summary of dangers to watch out for when walking

Throughout the year, there are a number of things to be particularly aware of when walking your dog:
  • Spring (Adders, lungworm, spring flowers)
  • Summer (Blue-green algae, grass seeds, walking on warm days, bee/wasp stings, fleas)
  • Autumn (acorns, conkers, fungi)
  • Winter (walking on cold days, Alabama rot)
  • All year round (ticks, poisonous plants, water safety, rubbish)

Spring concerns

Dangers to be aware of during spring include:

Adders

Be aware of adders when out walking your dog, especially in the spring and summer months. A poisonous species native to the UK, adders begin to emerge from hibernation as the temperature rises in early spring. Dogs are usually bitten by an adder when they stumble upon them in the undergrowth. Dogs that are bitten may show signs of:
  • Small puncture wounds
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Dribbling
  • Vomiting
  • Bleeding
If your dog is bitten, take them to your vet as soon as possible and leave the bite and surrounding area alone. Using a tourniquet or trying to suck out the poison can sometimes make it worse.

Find out more about adder bites.

Lungworm

During the wet spring months, the risk of your dog becoming infected by lungworm increases. Lungworm is a type of parasitic worm that can be spread to dogs from infected slugs and snails, or their slime trails. Lungworm currently is relatively uncommon in the UK, but is a potentially serious problem. Signs that your dog could be infected include:
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Coughing (sometimes bringing up blood)
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss 
  • Behavioural changes
If you have any concerns, it’s important that you speak to your vet immediately.

Find out more about lungworm.

Spring bulbs and flowers

Flowers such as daffodils, tulips and spring crocus can be found in gardens and public spaces across the country. Although beautiful, they can make your dog ill and it’s important that you are aware of the dangers that each presents to your dog.

Find out more about poisonous spring flowers.

See also

Summer dangers

Summer is the season for spending time outside, relaxing and enjoying the sun. As with every season, summer poses risks to dogs which owners should be aware of. 

Blue-green algae

Blue-green algae can be found in different areas of water around the UK (e.g. ponds, streams, lakes, estuaries etc.) and can produce toxins that may be harmful to animals and humans. It’s found most often during, or after, hot and sunny periods (i.e. mid to late summer) and especially after heat waves. The chemicals produced by the algae can vary and so can make dogs unwell in different ways. These effects can range from making them sick, causing an upset stomach (both of which may be bloody), making them sleepy, affecting their heart and blood pressure, twitching, problems breathing, damaging their organs or it can even be deadly, sometimes very shortly after exposure.

Find out more about blue-green algae.

Grass seeds

Some grass seeds look, and act, like tiny arrowheads that can get caught in a dog’s hair and burrow into the skin as the dog moves. These seeds are most commonly found in the summer and usually cause injury on dog’s feet and in their ears. Breeds with hairy feet and ears are most at risk, particularly during walks in meadows or woodlands where these types of grasses grow. Dogs will often be found licking their paws, or shaking their heads and often seem to be uncomfortable or in pain. If you suspect your dog may have a grass seed injury, you should speak to your vet straight away.

Find out more about grass seeds.

Walking on warm days

Dogs are not as good as humans at dealing with warmer temperatures, as they find it harder to cool down. It's important to pay attention to the signs that your dog is too hot (e.g. panting excessively and lethargy) and take the necessary precautions to avoid heatstroke. Make sure that you take plenty of water on walks and something for them to drink out of. On hot days, take your dog out in the early morning or evening to avoid the hottest parts of the day.

Find out more about heatstroke.

Bee or wasp stings

Wasp and bee stings are most common in the spring, summer and early autumn when these insects are most active. Dogs are usually stung on the paws or around the face and may show signs of pain or swelling. Although most stings can be dealt with easily at home, some dogs can have a more serious reaction and will need to be taken to a vet as quickly as possible. If your dog shows severe swelling, is sick, has problems breathing, or appears unwell, then take your dog to the vets straight away.

Find out more about bee and wasp stings.

Fleas

Whilst out and about in the countryside, your dog may come into contact with fleas or other animals infested with fleas. The strong back legs of these insects allow them to jump from host to host, or from the environment onto the host. Fleas are easily preventable and products that are safe, easy to administer and effective can be used to stop them from bothering your pet. If you are not experienced in using flea or tick treatments or preventatives, then speak to your vet for advice on which ones to use.

Find out more about fleas.

See also

Autumn dangers

Dangers to be aware of during autumn include:

Acorns

Poisoning from acorns is most likely to occur in the autumn months when these fruits have fallen to the ground. A one-off feast of acorns is likely to cause vomiting, diarrhoea (both of which may be bloody), and may cause your dog to become sleepy. Eating acorns regularly may cause kidney or liver problems, while eating large amounts can cause a blockage in your dog’s stomach.

Conkers (horse chestnuts)

These beautiful shiny seeds are usually found in autumnal months and can be very attractive to your dog. All parts of the horse chestnut could make your dog ill, with effects including:
  • Being sick
  • Having an upset stomach
  • Dribbling
  • Being off their food

Since conkers are large and hard they could also pose a choking risk.

Fungi (also known as wild mushrooms or toadstools)

There are thousands of different types of fungi, each one varying in shape, size, colour and how poisonous they are. Although fungi can be found throughout the year, they are most commonly found in autumn. Some fungi can be eaten safely, while others are extremely dangerous, and unfortunately it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two. The type of fungi eaten will determine whether your dog becomes unwell, how quickly and in what way. Effects can be very sudden, or they may be delayed for days, or even in rare instances by weeks. If your dog does eat an unknown fungus take them to the vets straight away and, if possible, bring along a picture or a sample of the fungi. Remember that fungi can be poisonous to you too, so pick it up with a poo bag and wash your hands as soon as possible. Ideally, fungi samples should be transferred to a paper bag as this can help preserve the sample.

Found out more about poisonous fungi.

See also:

Winter dangers

Dangers to be aware of include:

Walking on cold days

Very low temperatures and cold winds can quickly reduce your dog’s body temperature, causing frostbite and/or hypothermia. Every dog is different, but some dogs may be more at risk from cold weather, particularly small, slim, very young or older dogs, or those with short hair. If you’re outside in the cold and your pet starts shivering or appears very tired, then get them home as soon as possible. If they are very unwell, get worse or continue to be unwell, contact your vet immediately.

Find out more about hypothermia and frostbite.

Alabama rot

Alabama rot is a very rare but potentially deadly disease that assaults the blood vessels in a dog’s skin and kidneys. The cause of Alabama rot is unknown, but may be linked to wet and muddy conditions. Dogs are most commonly affected in winter and spring months. Dogs affected by this condition may develop:
  • Ulcers or sores (often on their legs)
  • Kidney failure, which is often fatal

Find out more about Alabama rot.

See also

All year round

Dangers to be aware of all year round include:

Ticks

After walking with your dog in the countryside, make sure you check your dog for ticks by thoroughly checking their body for any small lumps and bumps. Ticks may carry dangerous infectious diseases, so it’s important to ensure that they are removed quickly and correctly. Never burn ticks off or cover them in Vaseline, as this is not recommended and can be dangerous to your dog. Speak to your local veterinary practice for advice on how best to remove them.

Find out more about ticks.

Poisonous plants

There are many different plants that could make your dog ill. Some of these are highly poisonous, while others may only cause a mild tummy upset. Plants also vary in attractiveness to dogs, with some being tastier than others.

Find out more about poisonous plants.

Water safety

When the weather warms up, you may think about taking your dog to visit the beach or taking them for a walk near a lake. It’s important that you are aware of water safety for both you and your dog. Never let them go swimming in rough sea and make sure they come back to you if you call them, as this is particularly important if they are swimming too far out. Always start off in shallow water to let your dog get used to the water before letting them swim in deeper water.

Find out more about water safety,

Rubbish

Litter, discarded chicken bones, broken glass and mouldy foods can all be dangerous to your dog. If eaten, old food packets could get stuck in your dog’s gut and cause a life-threatening blockage. Chicken bones can shatter, and the sharp shards could pierce your dog’s stomach, while mouldy foods can contain chemicals that are poisonous to your dog. Ensure you keep a close eye on your dog while out for a walk and make sure they are well-trained to leave items you’re cautious about.

What to do if you think your dog is poisoned

Contacting your vet

If you think that your dog may have eaten, touched or inhaled something that it shouldn't have, speak to your vet straight away.

Never try to make your dog sick. Trying to do this can cause other complications, which may harm your dog.

Things to tell your vet

In an emergency you can help your veterinary practice make an informed decision as to whether your dog needs to be treated by them and, if so, what the best treatment would be. Where possible you should provide your veterinary practice with the following information:

  • What poison you think your dog has been exposed to (i.e. chocolate, ibuprofen etc.). Include any product names, or lists of ingredients if relevant
  • How much they may have been exposed to (i.e. 500mg, 500ml, one tablet etc, even approximations may help)
  • When your dog was exposed to the poison (i.e. five minutes, five hours or five days ago)
  • If your dog has been unwell and, if so, what clinical effects have been seen

It is easier for a vet to care for a poisoned dog if it is treated sooner rather than later. If you are in any doubt, don't wait for your dog to become unwell before calling for advice.

What to take to your vet
If you do need to take your dog to your veterinary practice, make sure that you take along any relevant packaging, or a sample of the poison, e.g. parts of plant or fungi. Always make sure that you yourself are protected and cannot be poisoned in turn.
Using this information
The information is intended to be used to prevent poisoning by raising awareness of certain poisons, rather than as a document to be used in an emergency. If you think that your dog has been poisoned, or has come into contact with potentially poisonous substances, contact your local veterinary practice immediately.

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

Find a vet near you

If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.

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