By John Andersen, DVM
Spring is here, and for us veterinarians that usually means we’re getting busier. Of course, our pets aren’t getting more kidney disease or dental disease with the changing seasons, but there are a few things we tend to see more of when the weather warms up. Here are a few “pro tips” to help keep you and your pet out of the veterinary office this spring!
Keep your cats inside at night.
Another spring day, another cat-fight abscess. If you have an indoor/outdoor cat, they naturally tend to want to spend more time outside as the weather warms up. Many cats are conditioned to come inside at night, but others seem to prefer the wilds of the outside night from time to time. But nighttime is when bad things happen to cats. Cat fights are number one. Almost all of our cat fights occur at night and most cat fight wounds lead to a painful abscess (pocket of pus) that needs veterinary attention. Typically, when cats bite and scratch another, they leave a puncture wound that’s only about 1mm, but the tooth or nail may have sunk in up to an inch deep. This seeds bacteria that quickly start to cause an infection and usually after 1-2 days, these animals are sick, lame, and have a large amount of swelling where the bite was. Also more common at night are cats being hit by cars, being chased into an injury or broken leg, or just going missing. Avoid these problems by conditioning your cat to always stay inside at night. Feeding dinner late or having a routine for some treats before dark is a good way to start this habit.
If you’ve stopped your pet’s flea/tick and heartworm prevention, better start back up!
I recommend keeping pets on heartworm and flea/tick prevention year round here in Virginia. Why? First, most people underestimate the heavy flea and tick season. Fleas are at their worst from September to November, and ticks are at their worst from March through May. Many people seem to skip preventatives right at the end/beginning of these heavy exposure times and end up with pets getting fleas and/or ticks. Second, ticks never go away. Ticks are only inactive when it is below freezing, and most days in our Virginia winters get over 32 degrees for a high. So that February walk in the woods can easily lead to some tick exposure. Third, although the risk of acquiring heartworms is very low in the freezing weather, picking up intestinal parasites is a year-round risk. Dogs pick up roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms by a fecal-oral route of transmission. In real life, this means that your dog either runs through the woods and eats some delicious fox/coyote poop that’s loaded with worm eggs, or gets exposed via the soil and then goes home and grooms their feet. Hookworm and whipworm eggs are stable and infective in the environment for years, so cold winter weather doesn’t make picking those parasites up any less common. Heartworm prevention does a good job at preventing intestinal parasites as well. All that being said, Virginia is lush with parasites and they all come out in force with the warm weather—heartworm disease, tick-borne disease, intestinal parasites, sarcoptic mange and fleas. Using a preventative on your pets is well worth it.
Ramp up exercise SLOWLY.
Lets face it, taking your dog for a hike or run in 6 degree weather is less than appealing. It’s common for people to get away from exercise and exercising their dogs over the cold winter months, but then when those first warm weekends approach, we are ready to dive in! Remember that your dog needs proper conditioning just like we do. If they haven’t been on a walk for the past three weeks, now is probably not a good time to take them on a 10-mile hike. Ease into exercise to help prevent injuries. Also, if your pet has gained some weight over the winter, increasing exercise alone is probably not enough. Be prepared to cut back food intake while you increase the exercise to help jumpstart weight loss.
Look out for bee stings and insect bites.
One common warm weather presentation we get is the dog with an acutely swollen face or paw. The typical story is the dog was in the backyard, and next thing the owners knew he was holding up a paw or had a swollen face. Most of the time, these end up being bee stings or other allergic insect bites. Typically these will respond with Benadryl or other antihistamine, but sometimes severe reactions require more care. It’s probably best to call your vet if you do see these signs so they can determine if it’s an emergency.
Prepare for allergies.
Just as in people, the spring and fall are common allergy seasons, and allergic skin disease is the number one problem we see in dogs. Unlike people, who usually manifest allergies with sneezing, runny eyes, and nasal congestion, dogs and cats tend to get skin disease. When exposed to offending allergens like pollens, grass, etc., dogs have a lot of histamine release in their skin, which can cause anything from hair loss to rashes, to widespread skin infection or to ear infections. Although there is no easy, all-encompassing advice for preventing allergies, bathing your dog regularly (even every week) is often helpful, as well as catching allergic dermatitis early rather than late. A mild ear infection is a breeze to treat, while a chronic, established ear infection may take a month or more to resolve. Call your vet if you notice your dog or cat itching, scratching, or losing hair.
Springtime in Virginia is paradise and one of the best seasonal experiences in the country. Get outside with your pets and enjoy the season.