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Spring Joys and Dangers for Your Dog

By: Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna
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This time of year everyone is racing to get outside.  We have all been cooped up for too long, with blustery winter weather.  While some lucky people (and dogs) have been able to get outside for exercise in winter, spring often signals the beginning of more opportunities to get outside and play.

I love spring, and all of the joy it brings my family, including Sophie.  We go outside for various holidays and play-dates, and resume our regular walks in the neighborhood.  Sophie loves going to the playground and the dog parks, as a way to get out and socialize.  But this socialization is not without a little risk.

Just like with humans, dogs carry various germs and parasites.  A large number of these are contagious, sometimes through direct contact with another dog, and sometimes through indirect exposure.  Indirect exposure can be exposure to urine, feces, or even an object another dog accidentally infected, such as a community water bowl.  A recent outbreak of canine influenza in the Chicago area closed several dog parks, and many others posted signs to use caution.  Canine influenza is specific to dogs, and cannot be transmitted to humans.  In some dogs, the influenza virus can develop into pneumonia with a fever, and rarely results in death; dogs most at risk are young puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with respiratory issues (such as brachycephalic ‘smush-faced’ breeds).  Luckily a vaccine is available, since dogs have no natural immunity to canine influenza.  Many areas in the US have had outbreaks, but the vaccine is not considered “core” or part of the standard recommendation for all dogs.  Sophie has a lot of exposure to other dogs, so she is vaccinated against influenza.  Speak with your veterinarian about your dog’s risk factors for this disease.

Here in Northern Virginia, we see quite a few parasites that are more common in the spring, because dogs are out in the dog parks, potentially exposing each other.  Giardia is a great example.  Giardia is an intestinal parasite that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, or mucus in the stools.  It thrives in damp areas, so heavy rainfall in the spring can increase the chance for transmission.  Dogs with Giardia are contagious to other dogs, as well as humans.  If your dog develops symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, the best way to test for this disease is through a stool sample.  Your veterinarian will test the sample, and can prescribe medications if needed.  Additionally, you can make a note in your dog’s Voyce Note section, of the episode of vomiting or diarrhea, to help you track improvement.  Personally, I always put a note in Sophie’s record of which dog park we frequent, and on which day, so if she gets sick, I can warn the other dog parents.

Another germ to be aware of in the spring is Parvovirus.   Parvo is a frequently deadly disease that puppies can be exposed to directly or indirectly.  This virus is common in the south and in some rural areas, but it can be found anywhere in the US.  One of the major problems with Parvovirus is that it can live in the environment for years.  This fact means that if a dog with Parvovirus had diarrhea in a dog park, that park is considered contaminated until it is appropriately treated.  The good news is that there is a very effective and safe vaccine for Parvovirus that most puppies start when they are around 6 weeks of age.  Nonetheless, puppies are not considered fully protected against parvovirus until they have fully completed their vaccine series, usually around 12-16 weeks of age.  In general, I do not recommend puppies attend the dog park, or any area where the other dogs’ vaccines are unknown, until they have completed all of their vaccines.  Parvovirus causes a bloody diarrhea, a weakened immune system, and often death, so it is better to protect your puppies and avoid this disease.  I recommend socializing puppies with other dogs that are fully vaccinated, and fully protected against parasites, in your home, or another known location.  Most puppy classes require all attendees to be current on their Parvo vaccine.

One of the most common spring parasites is something we rarely talk about anymore, because it is so commonplace.  FLEAS.  Fleas are bad news, especially in the spring.  As the weather warms up, fleas enjoy finding a dog host, and they live most of their lives on the dog.  If you see a flea on your dog, it often means that there are more fleas in your environment and house, as they can lay up to 50 eggs per day.  If a dog swallows a flea, he can develop intestinal tapeworms, since fleas are carriers.  A single fleabite can cause an allergic reaction, even in a dog that is on flea preventative.  These reactions sometimes result in hot spots or skin infections.  Of course, I always recommend year round flea (and tick) prevention, but in the spring be diligent to not miss a dose.  Voyce can send you email reminders when you are due to give your flea prevention.

Spring is wonderful, and provides us with new opportunities to get outside, and see some sunshine.  But before you head outside, make sure you review your Voyce reminders to ensure your dog is current on all his vaccinations and preventions.  And remember, if you are suspicious that he may have contracted a disease, do not wait.  Prompt treatment by your veterinarian can minimize risk that your dog will expose other dogs as well.  Now go play—doctor’s orders!

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