By Brian Miller
While it may be hard for us in Central New York to believe it, spring is finally here! As we shake off the winter blues and head outside to enjoy the milder temperatures, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to the health and safety of your pets. I sat down with Dr. Jason Hutt to discuss some of the most important things for owners to remember with the dissipation of the snow, and the emergence of the sorely missed sunshine.
What are some of the most common problems cats and dogs face this time of year?
Some of the most common problems are due in large part to the changing weather. Pets will be spending more time outdoors, and as the snow melts, different hazards may become more apparent than they were when the snow was thick and deep. These hazards include animal feces, garbage, and foreign objects that dogs may choose to ingest. It is a good idea to take a look around your backyard, and see if there is anything out there that may seem enticing for your pet to eat, or if there are any other objects that they may injure themselves on. Melting ice can be sharp and may cut the feet of your pet as they step through it.
Are there other hazards that owners should be aware of when heading outside with their pet in the spring?
A thing to keep in mind is that flea infestations that may have lain dormant in the winter are likely to become active again in spring. With “wet” weather becoming more prevalent, you do want to be aware of diseases such as leptospirosis which is often associated with wildlife. So, if you camp or hike, or your dog has potential exposure to wildlife, you want to make sure that your dog is up-to-date on their leptospirosis vaccination. This particular vaccine is not one of the core vaccinations, so be sure to discuss leptospirosis with your veterinarian if you believe your dog may be at risk. Lyme disease is also a big concern for all dogs that are going outside. It only takes a couple of days above freezing for ticks to come back out. We highly recommend that all dogs get vaccinated for Lyme, so that they are protected all year round, even if they are on a flea and tick preventative.
Have you seen Lyme disease become more prevalent in this area?
Absolutely. We have seen a marked increase in incidents of Lyme disease over the course of the past 5 or 6 years. According to the statistics we received from our reference laboratory, between 7% and 9% of dogs tested in Onondaga County were positive for Lyme in 2014. This is in stark contrast to 10 years ago, when only 2% to 4% tested positive for the disease. Starting in 2011, we began recommending that all dogs who go outside receive the Lyme vaccination. Some owners are still unaware of the dangers of this emerging disease, so here at Liverpool Animal Health Center, we take every opportunity to educate our clients. Despite some common misconceptions, it is vital to remember that your dog doesn’t have to be in the woods to contract the disease because ticks are in the yard, on the sidewalk, and can be found in cities and towns alike.
If a dog has been cooped up inside because of the harsh winter, is there anything to remember before letting them back outside?
Dogs, like people, are athletes in a lot of ways. If they have been athletic all winter long, they can continue to enjoy that same amount of high level activity. On the other hand, many dogs have a prolonged period of decreased activity in the winter, and as the weather changes, you need to be cognizant of their physical fitness and the amount of exercise that they can handle in order to avoid injury. You should increase the amount of exercise gradually to improve conditioning. Another thing to be mindful of is rising temperatures. Many people don’t realize that even relatively mild temperatures in the 70’s can cause overheating when pets aren’t yet acclimated to the climate change.
Is there anything owners should know before letting their cat outside?
The most important thing to remember when letting your cat outdoors, is that not only do they need to be spayed or neutered, but that they also need to be up-to-date on all of their routine tests and inoculations. In addition, be sure that they are on an excellent flea and intestinal parasitic control to ensure that they are not picking up any preventable diseases.
What are your thoughts on bringing a dog to a community dog park?
Socialization is as important to dogs as it is to humans, and when you are congregating with a large number of people and pets, it’s really no different than sending your child to school; you want to make sure that they have all the appropriate requisite vaccines to avoid preventable diseases. You also want to be aware of opportunistic diseases such as parasites. It is very easy for a dog who is carrying a parasitic disease to infect others if they are not protected. You are never going to be able to control how other people are caring for their pets, but if you are taking preventative measures with flea & tick preventative, and a heartworm preventative (which also gives them intestinal parasite control), you are doing everything you can to halt opportunistic parasites from infecting your pet. Having said all of that, socializing your dog in a positive environment far outweighs the relatively low risk of possible contamination as long as your dog is being treated properly with the recommended preventatives.