Vet Talk

Pet Perils of Primavera

Nasty surprises hide amongst the green shoots of spring grass

Published: June 05, 2017
By Tony Johnson

dog running grass Shutterstock

Surviving a Midwest winter makes you appreciate the ease with which things can get done in spring. No longer is a simple trip to the grocery store planned with the same dedication and care as an attempt at summiting Everest: boots? Check. Scarf? Check! Mittens? Check! No, in spring you just go, wear your flippy-floppies and pick up your Preparation H like it ain’t no big thing.

But ER vets know that along with the many joys of spring - green grass, baseball, camping, easy access to vital ointments - also come many threats to pets. How do you protect your pet from some nasty surprises hiding in amongst the green shoots of grass?

Coincidentally (almost) all of them start with “P.” Who knew?

File this one under “ouch.” When the weather gets warmer, dogs go exploring. Sometimes they get unlucky and happen upon a porcupine. Now, they generally have two choices when encountering one of these bristly fellows: stay and fight or leave and live. Which do you think they chose more often?

In a bit of spring-fever-fueled bravado, many dogs will fail to notice the porcupine’s fairly un-subtle armament and engage the poor spiky beast in an attempt to eat it and/or play with it. This usually ends with the porcupine minus a few quills and the dog with a face straight out of a horror movie. That old saw about porcupines being able to shoot their quills is pure hogwash (although that would be so cool) but that doesn’t mean that a dog can’t get a painful face-full in nothing flat.

Any dog who tangles with a porcupine should have the quills removed under general anesthesia or heavy sedation with good pain control: they hurt going in, and they hurt coming back out! Don’t try it at home. A small piece of a quill (or a missed quill that is embedded all the way) can continue to move and migrate under the skin and end up in some very bad places weeks or months later and cause all sorts of complications – or even death.

The word “parvo” strikes fear into the hearts of dog lovers everywhere, and with good reason. Parvo is a deadly and easily preventable) disease that strikes unvaccinated puppies and has a mortality rate of about 20 percent with treatment, and about 80 percent without treatment. Parvo is the Ebola of the puppy world: many of the symptoms are the same, and the mode of transmission is the same for both diseases. Dogs can pick up parvo on the sidewalk, at the park – anywhere that people may decide to stroll with their dog once being outdoors is an option.

There is a readily available and safe vaccine that gives puppies a high degree of immunity to the virus. It’s not a 100 percent guarantee that they won’t get parvo, but the chances are far slimmer with vaccination. The vaccine is given starting at 4 to 8 weeks of age and repeated every 2 to 3 weeks until 4 months of age (or until 6 months in at-risk breeds like Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and Pit Bulls; they have a higher susceptibility to parvo).

Parvo is a serious disease that often requires aggressive care and a substantial financial commitment. Doesn’t it make more sense to vaccinate your puppy for $25 than to spend $2,000 on treating a preventable disease? If your pup isn’t vaccinated, make plans now to get them the protected. You might save your puppy’s life, and you might also save yourself a whole lot of worry (and money) as well.

Pheatstroke (I did say almost all start with P)
Heatstroke is far and away spring and summer enemy #1. Make sure that your pet has shade and fresh, cool water when the weather turns warm, and never EVER leave your dog in a car on a warm day. Your car can go from comfy to deadly hot in just minutes! It's not enough to leave the windows cracked open. Heat stroke is deadly and 100 percent avoidable. If your dog overheats, douse him with cool water, blast the A/C and get him to your veterinarian straight away!

Heatstroke doesn't just affect dogs left in cars: it also affects the ones tied up in the yard with no shade, dogs who are on a walk or run with their owners in the middle of the day, dogs brought to a 'fun' daylong festival or parade where there's no shade or water, who spend the day at the beach or a sand bar on the river, or sitting on a boat. Also, cats left in porches without open windows can get more than toasty; porches heat up like giant cars.

Plant awns (AKA grass awns or foxtails)
These evil little buggers show up in spring and they go everywhere. These are little seed pods that have wee barbs on them so they can only go in one direction - deeper into your pet. If you don't know what they are or don't live in an area where they are common, consider yourself very (very) lucky! I recall practicing in California and a good portion of every spring was spent hunting for grass awns in dog's feet, ears, eyes, and several other places. I have even seen them wind up in the abdominal cavity and cause septic peritonitis. They burrow into flesh and then form little abscesses like some sort of alien larva. In many cases, sedation or anesthesia is needed to remove all but the most superficial ones. 

Of course, there's also the non-P dangers, depending on your geographic area: snakes coming out of brumation (copperheads come to mind); cane toad toxicities; allergies; walking with your dog off-leash because it's so nice out; hiking off lead; falling into creeks; and it's easy peasy for a dog to get hit by a car or a tractor. Any nice weather can bring several hazards, but the end of winter seems to bring the most need for caution.

You made it through winter; you deserve a little time outside and so does your pet. Just take the right precautions and do it safely and no one gets hurt.

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