By Dr. Jane Leon
Spring is a great time of year; the snow melts and flowers bloom. We feel the urge to get up and get moving. So, every spring you tune up the car, clean out the house and swear that you will get in shape. While you are getting your life and body in order, take the opportunity to do the same for your pet. It is time to get the overweight dog off the couch and outdoors with you, and to make sure that all your pets are fit and healthy this spring.
Dogs that have been sitting home with you all winter need to get back in shape gradually, just like you. This means that a dog that has not been exercising cannot be expected to suddenly run miles with you. Both the dog and you may end up with sore muscles, torn ligaments, and hefty doctor bills. So use common sense when getting everyone back in shape. Start with short, easy walks that don't leave the pet out of breath. Gradually increase the length and intensity of the exercise as the animal and you are able to handle more. If you are walking or running, try to spare everybody's feet by staying on the grass and off hot pavement as much as possible. If you and your pet have to run on roads, you may want to invest in a pair of light-weight running boots to protect the dog's feet from glass, trash, and hot tar. And, if your pets are getting on in years or are arthritic, consider starting them on joint supplements before you hit the running trails.
Make sure that you pay attention to the weather. Dogs do not sweat; they can only pant to cool off. So a day that is warm to you may actually be dangerously hot to a running or working dog. Stop and rest if the dog is panting excessively. Carry water and a collapsible bowl so you can offer your pet a drink every 15 to 20 minutes. Remember that an excited, running dog may not have enough common sense to slow down, so you must make the dog take a break when needed. Takes these rests in the shade and wait until the dog is cooled off before resuming any exercise.
Dogs that are starting an exercise program should have a physical examination by your veterinarian before training begins. The veterinarian will check the dog's heart and lungs and make sure the animal is fit enough to start exercising. If your dog is not on year round heartworm preventative, this is the time to get the animal's yearly heartworm test and start the preventative medication. It is also the time to think about flea and tick control. Ticks respond to the motion of living beings and literally jump on people and pets as they stroll by. Your dog may pick up ticks while playing or jogging with you. A good flea and tick product can minimize the damage caused by these pests, help your pets feel good the entire season, and keep these parasites from setting up housekeeping in your home.
The flowering plants of spring look and smell beautiful. They also spell trouble for pets with inhalant allergies. If your pets are allergic to grasses, trees, or flower pollen, this is a great time to speak with your veterinarian about preventative measures. Also, giving your pets a coat supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease allergic itching, while helping to maintain healthy coats and skin. Start these supplements before the rashes and scratching begin.
Bees and other stinging insects are also more active this time of year. Watch your pets to make sure they do not play with stinging insects. Many animals try to catch insects with their paws and mouths. The results can be a nasty, painful sting. If your pet is stung, scrape out the stinger with the edge of a credit card and apply ice to the area. If your pet has trouble breathing, or develops swelling around the face, head, or throat, seek immediate veterinary help. Owners of dogs that have allergic reactions to bee stings should keep medications on hand to start immediate treatment.
The birds and the bees are not the only ones active in springtime. Spring is peak reproductive time for many animals, including cats. Spay and neuter your cats now to prevent unwanted litters this summer.
Spring is a great time of year. Pets and their people shed the overcoats of winter and more outdoors. Follow your instincts and enjoy the wonderful weather. Just make sure to pay attention to the needs of your pets. Have a spring tune-up, start exercising gradually, and in a few weeks, everyone will feel fit and healthy.