I often wait on this article, but have had many muddy, sunny dog walks by now. The days are longer, the sun is brighter and the rain is happening. Sure, we might get more snow, but I think it’s time to talk spring!
I am going to start with everyone’s favorite topic — parasites. I know I harp on this a lot, but I’ve seen ticks out already. Many people wait for warmer weather to start worrying, but ticks are active above 36 degrees or so. If you’ve been keeping track, that’s been a lot lately, and even all winter. While I strongly recommend tick prevention year-round since ticks are active in just about every month now, not everyone is on board. If your pet is not on prevention year-round, they should be starting soon. Like two weeks ago. Heartworm prevention must be started as soon as the weather is warm enough for mosquitos, while grass and any temperature above 36 degrees get the ticks moving. Typically, people who take breaks can take a break with heartworm prevention for longer, since our temperatures swing often, meaning we aren’t dealing with mosquitos for another month. Ticks, on the other hand, are out right now and ready to bite.
Heartworm medication also acts as a dewormer, and many dogs are getting luckier at finding mice and other rodents as the snow melts. My dog brought me a rabbit leg and squirrel head in the last two weeks. For this reason, she gets heartworm prevention even in the winter. Since heartworm pills also act as a dewormer, I recommend it for pets that are prone to getting worms or that live with children (even in the offseason.) My dogs lick my kiddo and there is no stopping them, as hard as I try. If you are not in the group that sees this year-round, heartworm season is headed your way still.
If you can see grass or brush, the ticks are out and can be biting. Since ticks don’t die in the cold weather, as soon as they can crawl from grass to pets they will be around. As anyone who has started tapping trees for maple season can tell you, the ticks are out in the woods. March is the month we typically start seeing a spring surge in tick activity, so make sure your pets are up to date on their tick prevention. While most people are now aware of Lyme disease, the breaks in protection we see are usually from starting prevention too late or ending too early.
Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis are another two diseases spread by ticks that we are beginning to see commonly.
Many people want all-natural products to use on themselves and their pets, and I understand that. Unfortunately, fleas, ticks and heartworm larvae aren’t killed by all-natural products. This is why they have survived through thick and thin by using their hosts to spread. There are some natural repellents, oils and candles that help decrease the number of mosquitoes that feed on your pet or make them less enticing to ticks. However, we must actually kill the flea, tick or heartworm larvae in order to prevent disease.
The good news is that there are many different types of products out that have been proven safe for many years. There are topicals, collars and chew tabs that give more flexibility to owners. In the next month, we will even have one pill for fleas, ticks and heartworm.
If your pet has been using a product that works well, I typically tell people to stick with it. The veterinary-specific collars (as in, not just grocery-store brand) tend to be the most cost-efficient, though it can be hard to remember when they are out of date, and for dogs who swim, their efficacy is decreased (from 8 to 6 months.) Topicals are a good stand-by, though these are also less effective for big swimmers. There are chewable tabs for either once every 4 or 12 weeks.
These are great for dogs who swim a lot or households with children who struggle with not petting the dog during the time that the medicine absorbs. Chews must be fully absorbed, so you do have to make sure your dog eats it and doesn’t throw it up for a few hours. Your veterinarian can help you decide which product will work best for your pet.
Spring is also the time when most people start thinking about vaccines. Many of our pets have spread-out vaccine schedules, so your pet may not be due in these few months. However, this time of year can be a good reminder to make sure vaccines are up to date.