Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring Has Sprung! (Part 1)

Now that the weather is getting nicer, the grass is finally starting to come up, the bulbs are blooming, and the dogs are happily trotting around the yard.  It's light outside longer in the evenings, so we're starting to go for some longer walks, sometimes along the wooded trails near my house.  The dogs love this time of year, and so do I.... but it's important to remember to take some precautions with your pups before bringing them outside after their long winter dormancy.  In this blog post and my next, I'll outline two very important concerns to think about this spring with regard to your dog's health & protection.  

Dog Protection Concern #1:  Ticks.  As most of us in the East and increasing numbers of those of us in the South and Central regions know, every spring brings a fresh crop of tick larvae (ew!). In most of the US, there are deer ticks and dog ticks, and they come in many sizes.  The deer ticks are the ones that can carry Lyme disease, and unfortunately these are the smaller, more microscopic of the two types.  As you'll see in the pictures on this tick website, larval ticks (such as the ones that are hatching right now in early spring) are almost impossible to see, even when laid bare on a dime.  What that means is that the chances of you finding one in your dog's fur in order to pick it out, are about nil.  And it doesn't matter if you don't ever walk your dog in the woods, or if you keep only to the paved trails/street/sidewalk... your dog can still come home with ticks in his fur, which you won't find until a few days later when you notice an engorged insect attached to his skin (it's super-gross, trust me!).  By that time, if the tick happened to be carrying Lyme disease (about 10% of ticks do), your dog is now infected. You could start to see signs of the disease (stiffening or swelling of limbs, unidentified pain during movement, sensitive to the touch, lack of appetite, etc.) right away or not at all, but if left untreated Lyme disease will eventually cause kidney failure and intense pain for your dog.  Yikes! 

So, what should you do to keep your dog safe?  Well, there are a few options:
  • Lyme vaccine:  This costs around $20 annually (the first year you have to get it twice), and will ensure that if your dog gets bitten by an infected tick, your dog will not become infected. 
  • Flea & tick monthly topical preventative:  Topical flea & tick preventatives like K9 Advantix, Frontline, or Advantage, are available without a prescription, and you can easily get them from your vet, any major pet supply store, or order online.  They come in a monthly squeeze tube of liquid that you apply directly onto your dog's skin at the scruff of the neck, and they work by getting into the dog's skin oils and repelling fleas, ticks, and a number of other pests.  An added benefit here is that when you use a monthly preventative, your dog is not tracking these bugs into the house, because you don't want them getting on humans or laying eggs in your carpets.  However, the downside is that these preventatives aren't always 100% effective, so I prefer to use a combination of vaccine + monthly topical preventative to ensure that my dogs aren't getting infected AND aren't bringing bugs into the house.  HOT TIP:  To get the best possible price on flea preventatives and heartworm medications (which can get expensive), find the lowest possible price from any website online, then call 1-800-PETMEDS and ask for a price match.  They'll match the lowest price of the medication that you find from any other website, and they'll give you free 2-3 day priority shipping!  
  • Flea & tick shampoo:  There are many different kinds out there, but most of the research I've found says that as long as your shampoo contains both ingredients that kill adult fleas (pyrethrins) and ingredients that kill the larvae (pyriproxyfen), it will be effective.  Flea & tick preventive ingredients.  In addition to the vaccine and topical preventative, I also give my dogs a bath once a month with Sergeant's flea & tick shampoo, and it seems to work well and leaves their fur soft & shiny.  
 If you find an engorged tick on your dog and you have not vaccinated against Lyme disease, the best thing you can do is call your vet and get a prescription for penicillin to kill the disease before it seriously infects your dog.  However, this is not something you can rely on all the time, so I would highly recommend the annual Lyme vaccine for dogs in ALL regions of the country (ticks are everywhere!!). 

Next month, I'll discuss Dog Protection Concern #2:  Pesticides.  Until then, be sure to keep your dogs protected against ticks, and enjoy this beautiful spring!! 

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