If it wasn’t for the stubborn little crocuses in my front yard, I’d be hard-pressed to believe spring has come to Seattle. But officially the season has sprung, and in most parts of the country, the change is happy news for dogs, who will be spending more time sniffing, romping and rolling in the outdoors. Hooray!
While longer, warmer days bring joy to our hearts, they bring some risks to our dogs. “Every seasonal change can bring dangers, but spring presents some specific risks that can be easy to address, as long as pet owners know what to look for,” says Dr. Peter Bowie, a veterinarian in Marin, Calif.
Among Dr. Bowie’s seasonal priorities is antifreeze. While the deadly chemical is most often associated with winter, he says, veterinarians at the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin see just as many antifreeze poisonings in the spring. Whether it’s due to shade tree mechanics cleaning their radiators, unidentified leaks, or portable basketball hoops, ethylene glycol–based antifreeze winds up in driveways and streets where it tastes sweet to dogs and, even in tiny amounts, may cause sudden kidney failure.
Foxtails are another not-so-fabulous right of spring. These grass awns, which sprout in abundance this time of year, have microscopic barbules along their surface. Once they catch on animals’ fur, they can become lodged in their skin (most often in the webbing between the toes), ear canal, or nose. Foxtails cause extreme discomfort and often lead to bleeding, infection, and, in the case of ear canal migration, ruptured ear drums. If swallowed, foxtails can lodge in the throat, causing swelling and infection. If accidentally inhaled, they can cause serious damage and infection in the airways or lungs. (Check out Protecting Your Dog Aganst Foxtails by Nancy Kay, DVM).
Activity in the garden can also be detrimental to our dogs, the use of slug and snail baits, in particular. These combine an attractant, usually apple meal or some other sweet-smelling base, with an active chemical compound such as metaldehyde to poison whatever swallows the bait. Unfortunately, this can include our pets. Increased rat activity also means increased use of rat poison this time of year, one of the deadliest things your pet can ingest.
Fertilizers, even organic or natural fertilizers, can harm pets. Blood and bone meal are common organic fertilizers, which makes it tasty for pets but can cause vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatic inflammation. Grass and flower fertilizers can also contain toxic chemicals that may be deadly if ingested.
If you’re planting, remember some plants are toxic for dogs, including azalea, chrysanthemum, daffodil, rhododendron, sago palm and tulip. Consumption of these plants can lead to kidney failure in animals. The ASPCA provides a complete list of toxic plants with images.
“I urge pet parents to get outdoors and enjoy the season, just remain aware of your pets’ surroundings,” says Dr. Bowie. “Changes in the environment can be stimulating to them, but new smells in the yard or garden can also be harmful. Simply take extra precautions: be sure all chemicals are completely out of your pets’ reach, keep small pets on a leash at all times when outdoors, and remove foxtails as soon as you see them.”
Companion animals aren’t the only critters more active this time of year. Brian Adams of the Massachusetts Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) reminds us that spring is a time when wildlife is on the move. He suggests a few simple steps to minimize or prevent conflicts between us or our pets and wildlife.
Never feed wild animals intentionally or they will view your yard as a food source. The includes cleaning up spilled birdseed from feeders, which may attract turkeys, rodents, and the animals that prey on them. If you have bears in your area, remove bird feeders.
Avoid unintentional feeding by keeping trash and compost secured and by feeding pets indoors.
Drive carefully and watch for wildlife crossing roadways, especially in areas where road salt remains from winter storms; this attracts wildlife.
Learn more from MSPCA about how to humanely live with wildlife, including advice on critter-proofing your home and what to do when you discover an orphaned animal.
If your dog spent a good chunk of the winter, cashed on the coach, eating a few too many sweet potato chews, you also want to be gradual about bounding into a spring exercise regime. “Often, pets get overly excited to go outside and strain themselves,” says Heidi Ganahl, CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow. “Make sure you monitor your pet and start slow before engaging in strenuous physical activity.”
Still, there's no denying it’s a perfect season for launching a daily exercise regime. Dawn Marcus describes the health benefits and a plan for starting a successful walking plan.
Finally, another ritual of the season, spring cleaning poses risks for our pets. It’s important to think smart about your cleaning. Many cleaning products are irritating or even toxic for dogs. Invest in eco-friendly products, such as homemade cleaning solutions featuring vinegar or enzyme-based cleansers.