Black and White headshot of IndeVets Employee Juliane
Words by:
Juliane Evans, DVM — Veterinarian

You and your pet may be eager to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather now that spring has arrived!

Whether exercise, gardening, or chasing those pesky squirrels out of the yard is on your mind, there are a few things to keep in mind in the current season. Here are 4 tips for keeping your furry friends safe this spring.

Tip #1: Exercise and explore — Thoughtfully.

Walking has many health benefits and studies have shown that people with dogs tend to exercise significantly more.

While your cat, ferret, or rabbit may not be willing to do the miles, they can be taught to walk on a harness and leash too.

As with any exercise regimen, start your dog off gradually and have plenty of water available if you are attempting a longer or more rigorous walk/run/hike.  Even if the pavement hasn’t heated up to summertime temperatures, be aware of the surfaces you are asking your dog to travel over and take care of those paw pads.

Be mindful of mud and rain.

Always be prepared for surprises in weather. With the right gear and outlook, you can still enjoy those walks in the rain with your dog.

If you hike, be aware of slippery surfaces, and try to keep your dog’s nails trimmed short enough that they sit just above the floor. If your dog’s nails are very long, it may take frequent small nail trims to gradually shorten them without cutting into quick (blood supply).  Ask your veterinary technician for further tips on trimming nails.

Read more on puppy care: Our comprehensive guide for new paw-rents

Familiarize yourself with your pet’s body language.

Trips to the dog park may become more frequent and can be a great way for Fido to let loose some of that pent up energy.  Becoming familiar with dog body language is essential to minimizing conflicts in dog parks.

One book I’ve found to be enlightening is Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide, by Brenda Aloff.  If you ever wondered what dogs were saying to each other, this book is for you!  Hint: most of it is silent, and can be quite subtle to pick up on.

Another damper on dog parks are worms.  By keeping up with regular fecal exams and parasite prevention, you reduce the risk of your dog becoming ill due to a gastrointestinal parasite.

Supervision is key.

Supervise all small mammals like guinea pigs and rabbits while they are outside, and consider a covered enclosure so that they may exercise without danger of a predator swooping down from above.  Keep in mind the warmer temperatures and humidity, as well as your pet’s level of fear if not used to outdoor activity.

For dogs, find alternatives for one of the classic dog toys: the stick.

After winter thaws, and April showers, more sticks may be on the ground and accessible to your dog.  Try to remove these, especially if you have a known mulch-maker in your family.

As much fun as sticks can be, injuries do happen – my own lab-mix had to go to in for an emergency laceration repair caused by a stick, and as a vet, I’ve seen plenty of dogs come in for incidents involving puncture wounds from sticks to the feet, trunk, and even throat.  One memorable day, I had 2 dogs present for wounds from running into sticks!

Balls, Frisbees, and even rubber stick-like toys are great alternatives.

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Tip #2: Educate yourself about your garden.

Gardening is in full swing many places this time of year and can be a joyful activity to spend time in nature while growing plants for food and beauty.  It can be a great time to spend together with your pet, soaking up the warmer weather and sunshine.

Here are some gardening risks to be aware of for your pet.

Keep pets away from mulch and fertilizers.

While not the most relaxing aspect of gardening, mulching beds is a common practice to reduce weeds. In many dogs’ minds mulch is a popular treat.

Mulch can cause gastrointestinal upset and additionally has the potential to become a GI foreign body if it becomes lodged somewhere along the way. Cocoa bean mulch has the added problem for dogs in that it contains theobromine, the toxic ingredient in chocolate that causes elevated heart rates, tremors, and seizures in dogs.

Fertilizer should also be kept away from pets as it can cause significant vomiting and other problems.

Be mindful of outdoor cats…

Be aware of any neighborhood cats around, who may seek out your garden or flowerbeds as their litterbox.

It can be difficult to deter these visitors and cat feces can contain potential hazards like roundworms, hookworms, and Toxoplasmosis.  Wearing gardening gloves is always a good idea, especially for expectant mothers.  If able, fencing your garden helps to prevent access for cats.

Further reading: 5 tips for happily co-existing cats and houseplants

…And compost!

Composting is wonderful for so many reasons, but one of which is not is an additional source of snacks for your pooch. Many dogs will seek access to compost piles, and having a secure bin is important to prevent your dog getting into decomposing materials.

Not only do some kitchen scraps have the chance to cause an upset stomach, potentially leading to vomiting and/or diarrhea, some fungi can produce what are called “tremorogenic mycotoxins.”

These are neurotoxins are often produced by a Penicillium species of fungal organism (no mushrooms seen here) and can cause tremors, wobbliness, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, and nystagmus when ingested by pets.  Tremorogenic mycotoxins have been found in moldly cheese, dairy products, refrigerated food, meats, eggs, bread, compost, and grass clippings.

Identify vegetable toxins.

Another thing to consider for your garden, is preventing access to any plants in the nightshade family (Soleanceae), which includes tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants. These plants contain a toxin which can be found in the green parts of the plant but not in the ripe fruit.

Signs of ingestion may include gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, inappetance), hypersalivation, depression, or weakness.

One of my favorite patients was a giant schnauzer, who loved to peruse his owner’s garden, and in fact loved peppers so much, he would snatch them right off the vine. Shortly after he would come in to see me with diarrhea and a decreased appetite, on several occasions during the summer months.

Other gardening considerations to be aware of with your pet include plants in the Allium family (onions, garlic, leeks), as these can lead to anemia with ingestion.

Be aware of harmful flora.

Watch out for your pets around beautiful seasonal blooms. Lilies are of course toxic to cats in any form, but bulbs of several of our favorite blooms (daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, irises, crocuses) can be poisonous as well. In fact, bulbs contain a concentrated amount of toxins in comparison to the rest of the plant.

Even if they are safely buried, container gardens may not be as safe of an option if you have neighborhood squirrels or chipmunks.

I once saw a Bassett hound on emergency who gobbled up the bulbs that his partner in crime, a backyard squirrel, had dug up from the window boxes. Be on the look out for signs of vomiting and diarrhea, as the most likely signs of ingestion, but daffodil bulbs can also cause depression, low blood pressure and seizures if eaten in large enough quantities.

Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and Oleander are popular blooms this time of year too, and contain toxins that can affect the heart.  Consider fencing off these flowers or preventing access, especially if your dog is prone to digging them up and sampling various things in the yard.

More from IndeVets: Preventing and treating heatstroke with Dr. Kelly

Tip #3: Don’t forget the flea and tick prevention!

In most areas of the country, flick and tick prevention should be used year round.

Parasites are flourishing this time of year and hungry for their next meal.  Heartworm prevention is also critical to protect your pets and should be used year round as well.  Talk to your veterinarian about safe and effective products for your pets.

Read IndeVets’ guide to preventing and treating heartworm here – and our guide to feline heartworm specifically here.

Tip #4: Help mitigate seasonal allergies.

With beautiful spring blooms, pollen counts tend to rise, and this time of year can be ripe with seasonal allergies in pets.

Unlike people, dogs and cats tend to exhibit skin problems as a result of allergies, and these can be inhaled allergens rather than just through direct skin contact.

Talk to your veterinarian if your pet is showing signs of itchy or red skin, licking of paws, bumps, or coat changes.  There are several safe options available to provide relief to these pets.  Signs of an allergic reaction, potentially to an insect bite or sting may include hives, facial swelling, or difficulty breathing – these should prompt an immediate trip the veterinarian.

In closing

Daylight hours are getting longer and weather is getting warmer, allowing for more opportunities to play outside with your pets.  Spring is a season of renewal and new growth – enjoy all that it offers while keeping your pets happy and safe!

Dr. Juliane Evans is an Associate IndeVet practicing in North Carolina.

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