Well, spring is here – flowers are blooming, the birds and the bees are…well they are doing their “thing”, and you and your pets are itching to break out of your winter shells to go romping and enjoy the beautiful weather in the months to come. But, as with all things in life, the benefits of spring come with a price.
Unfortunately, you and your pets aren’t the only ones breaking out with the warmer weather. Wild animals and snakes are hungry after hibernation all winter. With pets spending more time outdoors in the warmer weather, encounters with such dangerous creatures are likely. Wild animals can transmit rabies, and snake bites can be deadly. Be aware of where your pet romps and plays. Fleas and ticks that have been holed up all winter will also be emerging and looking for a blood meal.
Fleas and Ticks
In the Frederick area, fleas and ticks can be a year-round problem because the temperature doesn’t consistently stay below freezing during the wintertime. Fleas and ticks will emerge and become much more of a problem as the temperatures start to rise and stay above 40 degrees.
A flea-ridden pet will not only be a nuisance to your family (creating a flea-infestation in your house) but such a pet can over time may develop severe anemia from the blood loss becoming very sick. Many pets will develop skin allergies as a reaction to just a couple of flea bites. Ticks can transmit a number of infectious diseases to your pet and to your family. One of these diseases is Lyme disease which we will discuss below.
Now is the perfect time to begin applying flea and tick preventives to your pet. We do NOT recommend any of the older over-the-counter (OTC) flea/tick products that can be purchased at pet shops. Many of those products contain chemicals (organophosphates, pyrethrins, others) that are toxic to pets even though they are labeled as safe. Cats are particularly sensitive to these chemicals and can have a severe and even lethal reaction. Dogs are less likely to develop a lethal reaction but can develop severe dermatitis from these OTC products. We recommend one of the following topical products which can be purchased through us, on-line, or at some pet stores:
- Advantage: protects against fleas – available for both cats and dogs
- Frontline: protects against fleas and ticks – available for both cats and dogs
- Advantix: protects against fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and biting flies- available for dogs only
(Note: Advantix is FOR DOGS ONLY and is TOXIC TO CATS)
—These products stand out from others because the chemicals are not absorbed into the bloodstream but stay in the glands of the skin. As a result, the fleas and ticks are killed before they even have a chance to bite your pet.
Like fleas and ticks, intestinal parasites can be a problem year-round. However, as pets spend more time outdoors, they are more likely to encounter areas where other animals (wild and domestic) have potentially deposited intestinal parasite eggs. These eggs are easily ingested or may even migrate directly through the skin causing your pet to become infected. It is important to have your pet’s stool sample examined for intestinal parasites at least once a year. Most intestinal parasites can only be seen through a microscope so just because YOU can’t see them does not mean they are not there. Dogs that spend a lot of time in parks or common areas in neighborhoods may benefit from a monthly heartworm preventative that also controls intestinal parasites.
Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (type of bacteria) that is transmitted through tick bites. It is rarely seen in cats, however, we are seeing an increase in the number of dogs testing positive for Lyme disease. (At our clinic, about 20% of tested dogs are positive for Lyme disease.) In fact, Frederick County is in an area of the country with the highest incidence of Lyme disease. While some dogs with Lyme disease may never develop an active infection, in other dogs it can result in joint disease and potential kidney failure.
Dogs that spend time in tall grass or woodsy areas, or like to go camping or hiking in the mountains are at high risk of being exposed to ticks and contracting Lyme disease. Also if your yard has a lot of shrubbery or is frequented by wild animals, your dog is it at higher risk. If this sounds like your dog’s environment, there are three things you should seriously consider:
1) Ticks must be attached to a host at least 48 hours to transmit the bacteria. Keeping your dog on a monthly tick preventative and checking him/her daily for ticks will greatly lower the risk of contracting Lyme disease.
2) There is a vaccine available for Lyme disease. If you have been debating whether or not to get this vaccine for your dog, this would be a perfect time to set up an appointment for it to be done.
3) There currently is no “cure” for Lyme disease. While antibiotics may put the disease in remission and the vaccine may prevent future infections, once your dog has Lyme disease, it will always be in his system with a potential for causing illness. So, prevention is the way to go.
“Rain, Rain, Go Away, Come Again Another Day”
Fun-filled spring days are commonly accompanied by lots of rain. Be sure that your outdoor pet has dry shelter available. Rain puddles and stagnant water provide a great breeding ground for mosquito larvae and other parasites. Runoff with insecticides, herbicides and other unknown substances could be dangerous to your thirsty pet. Avoid letting your pet drink from any stagnant pools of water.
Heartworm (HW) disease is caused by a parasite that lives in the bloodstream and is transmitted by mosquitoes. The mature heartworms live in the heart and pulmonary system of the dog where, if left untreated, it can be fatal. There is only about a 1% incidence of HW disease in the Frederick area. However outside the Frederick area, especially near the bay, ocean, and all points south, the incidence jumps to 50-90% in unprotected dogs. We recommend either placing your dog on a year-round preventative or testing for HW disease with a blood sample once a year. An added advantage to placing your dog on monthly preventative is that it also helps to control intestinal parasites. It is far safer and easier to prevent HW disease in dogs than to cure the disease.
“April Showers Bring May Flowers”
As gardeners venture out to groom their gardens, they could also unknowingly be putting their own animals at risk.
Toxins in the Garden
Weed killer, fertilizers, herbicides and other chemicals sprayed onto the lawn or in garden are poisonous to dogs and cats. Keep your pets out of the yard at least 24 hours after it has been sprayed. Now would also be a good time to check the fence line for loose boards/nails, to make sure your pet doesn’t get out into the neighbor’s yard or elsewhere injuring itself.
Never scatter snail and slug killing pellets, gopher or rat poison, or mothballs in gardens or flower beds if you have pets or if neighborhood pets have access to your yard. These substances are highly toxic to dogs and cats.
A fairly new product called Cocoa Mulch has made an appearance and should be avoided at all costs in your garden if you have pets with access to it. Cocoa Mulch is made from crushed cocoa bean shells which contain a chemical called “theobromine” – the same chemical that makes chocolate potentially fatal to dogs if ingested in large enough quantities. And unfortunately, a lot of dogs like to go “mulch grazing”.
There is an extensive list of plants that are toxic to dogs and cats – too extensive to be placed here. If you have a concern about any plant you have in your garden, please contact our office or your local plant nursery for further information.
As grass seeds dry out, dogs running through long grass can pick up the grass seeds (also known as grass awns) in their coat. They can make their way into the ears right down to the ear canal, causing an ear infection. They may also get into the eyes, up a dog’s nose, and in between toes. They penetrate the skin like an arrowhead and cause obvious problems for the pet.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff”
Well, sometimes it is worth it to at least think about the small stuff – things that you may not normally think about.
This time of year is when many animals will be shedding their winter coat. Owners should plan on daily brushing and a trip or two to the groomer to help manage this fur loss. (Place the fur outside for birds to use in their nests.)
Don’t let your dog lie directly on a wood deck that has not been sealed. Most wood decks are built from lumbar that’s been pressure-treated and preserved with toxic chemicals. Sealants should be applied every 2 years. Since toxic chemicals from treated wood can leach into the soil, never let pets crawl underneath a deck to sleep or play, nor allow dogs to chew/fetch decking wood.
Some dogs or cats will try to catch bees and others might even swat at them. When a dog gets stung, it is usually around the mouth, on the nose, or on a front paw. Some pets, like humans, can be allergic to stings. If your pet has a severe reaction (excessive swelling, trouble breathing), contact us immediately.
Pets, like humans, can have allergies to the pollens of spring. Signs of allergies can range from itchy/runny eyes to sneezing to red/dry skin to pruritus (itchiness) of the paws, body, and head. You may see your pet losing its hair in clumps, licking excessively at its paws, shaking its head, or rubbing its head on the ground. If this is the case, please set up an appointment for us to evaluate your pet.
“I couldn’t resist...”
Nobody can resist picking up a baby – human or not – and that’s ok unless it’s wild.
Springtime is also when we will be seeing young wildlife emerge. You will see baby birds hopping around on the ground, baby bunnies bouncing through the yard, and closer to fall, baby squirrels scrambling through the trees. This time of year we receive hundreds of calls from concerned individuals thinking they have found an abandoned/orphaned baby animal, when in fact its parents are nearby in the trees or in the brush. You should intervene ONLY if you know for certain that the animal is injured, ill, or truly orphaned. For guidelines, please click here to visit our wildlife page or pick up a “Caring For Wildlife” pamphlet at our front desk.