Putting a spring in your dog's step - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Putting a spring in your dog's step

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Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 11:00 pm

It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting warmer and southern Arizona moves into perpetual shorts and t-shirt season, which means spring has sprung! With the wonderful climate the northwest portion of Tucson provides us, it’s only natural for our dogs to be excited as well. As a responsible owner, it’s important to take certain precautions to keep the season accident-free and fun-filled.

One of the wonderful points of spring is all the new life that is around. Baby birds are being born and butterflies are coming out of their cocoons. Unfortunately, fleas, ticks and mosquitoes are also being born, which can be extremely irritating and even harmful to your dog. Even in the extremely hot state of Arizona, these pests are real problems.

The headaches of heartworm

Heartworm disease is one of the more common of medical problems with dogs during this season. Mosquitoes spread this serious and potentially fatal parasitic sickness and with an abundance of residential and commercial developments, such as water-hungry golf courses, in the area, these vectors of disease can easily procreate and live anywhere where water collects.

I’m not alone in persuading dog owners to get their pooch prepared for heartworm prevention. The American Heartworm Society has guidelines that recommend all dogs should be tested annually for infection.

Luckily, there is a key to prevention. Veterinarians around the area can and should assist you in fighting heartworm infection in your furry friends. Some of the measures that can be taken include an injectable administered by the vet, chewable tablets or monthly topical creams or gels that would be rubbed into your dog’s skin. The tablets seem to be the most popular, according to vets I know, due to convenience reasons.

Dirt diggers and plant munchers

As the weather warms, the desert blooms. Seeing cacti, ocotillos and palo verde trees really makes me appreciate the Southwest. With dogs being naturally inquisitive, they may get excited by the new smells, which could have them digging inappropriately. They could also possibly eat plants that can be painfully sharp or poisonous.

To help curb this habit, try gardening without your dog around. With you being a pack leader, it is easy for the dog to emulate behavior – if you’re digging up your backyard, Fluffy may try to come and “help.” Don’t allow your pet to think digging is acceptable.

Even though some of the most poisonous plants happen to be the most beautiful, I highly recommend not planting these in your backyard. Your local vet should be able to provide a list of recommended plants to stay away from in your garden.

Avoiding allergens

The advent of spring also means sore throats, increasing sneezing and constantly red eyes due to the amount of allergens in the air. Blooming flowers, grasses and plants can trigger atopy, which is very similar to hay fever. Your dog can be just as allergic during this time of year for the same reasons; however, the symptoms are different.

Instead of sneezing uncontrollably, your dog may develop a case of itchy skin and will persistently lick, bite and scratch. This can be irritating and extremely uncomfortable. In fact, some dogs can lick themselves sore or scratch too hard just to get some relief, but end up hurting themselves in the process.

If the signs of atopy occur for less than three months of the year, it typically means the allergy is seasonal and can be commonly treated through an oral medication such as cortisone. In more severe cases, a vet should be consulted to administer a skin test to pinpoint the exact allergy.

By being aware of these potential seasonal issues that can affect you and your pet’s ability to have some fun, you and your dog can have a great time. So, go out and run around together – it’s only a few more months until the dog days of summer come.

Steve Dell is a Marana-based master dog behavioral therapist and trainer with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company.

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