With the official start to spring only days away, March 20, 2014, soon temperatures will be climbing and outdoor activities will return in full force, bringing forth new threats to household pets.
However, owners can prepare their pets for the change in season by taking the proper precautions.
1. Get Back on Track With Heartworm Prevention
One of the single, largest dangers to the health of household pets is Dirofilaria immitis, or heartworms. Spread through mosquito bites, these parasitic worms can significantly harm the health of any animal infected.
With the peak of mosquito season coming with warmer weather, owners should be proactive and get their pets back on heartworm prevention medications if they were taken off them during the winter months.
"Heartworms are carried by mosquitos when temperatures are above a certain degree," Associate Veterinarian at Central Pennsylvania Emergency Treatment Services, or CPVETS, Dave Allgeier said. "Average temperatures have to be above 55 or 60F for an extended period of time before mosquitos can become activated."
Even though heartworms may not be as prevalent during the colder months of the year, it is still possible for animals to suffer from the infestation during the wintertime.
"In the colder air people think that their pets can't get parasites but it is possible, so you should really keep your pets on medication year-round," Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with VETdispatch Lauren Connolly said.
2. Continue Flea and Tick Prevention
During the wintertime, fleas are dormant outside, but when it gets warmer outside, they will come back out, according to Allgeier.
However, these insects can still be seen all year-round, and once they are present, they are exceedingly hard to get rid of, as they infest the animal then can jump to humans.
"Within five minutes of landing on an animal, they start eating and reproducing," Connolly said.
Other than the direct effects of flea bites on both animals and people, the parasite can also carry a slew of diseases including the Bubonic Plague.
Similar to fleas, ticks are a major concern for the spring season as the peak activity of the blood-sucking arachnid approaches.
"Their breeding season is late April, May and June and that's when we see a lot of tick activity," Allgeier said.
Ticks can also be vectors for diseases including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Fever.
While the peak season for ticks is not until the spring, it's a good idea to keep pets on preventative medications all year-round, according to Connolly.
3. Watch Out for Seasonal Allergies
With grasses, flowers and trees abloom in the spring season, like people, pets can suffer from seasonal allergies too.
"Pets manifest allergies through the skin instead of people with their respiratory systems," Connolly said.
While there is typically no way to prevent seasonal allergies in pets, owners can keep an eye out for excessive scratching or ear troubles in their animal, as these can be classic signs of allergies.
According to Connolly, if it is suspected that allergies may be causing the animal distress, owners should first rule out fleas and ear infections by taking them to the veterinarian. If allergies are the culprit, antihistamines can be prescribed to help the animal cope.
4. Ramp Up Exercise Slowly to Shed Winter Weight
Due to a family's change in activity level during the winter months, pets tend to gain weight. The warmer weather of the spring months present multiple opportunities for animals to shed that winter weight.
"If owners themselves start exercising and include the animal, start slowly and work up to an exercise regiment," Connolly said.
However, owners should beware of increasing exercise too quickly, as animals can develop injuries from jumping into an exercise regiment too fast.
5. Consider Getting a Microchip
With pets potentially spending more time outdoors, spring is the perfect time to contemplate getting a microchip for their pet.
"This is a way to identify your pet in case they get out of the fence, yard or break out of the leash," Connolly said. "It's a great way to get your pets back to you."