NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 11, 2014

Paw Prints: Keeping your pets healthy this spring

Paw Prints, Heidi Bassler
veterinarian

---- — It’s April, and spring has finally sprung. As gentle, warm sun bathes our homes and neighborhoods, it’s easy to believe that this month will hold nothing but beauty.

Indeed, the awakening of the earth is a time to enjoy. And it’s a lot more fun if Fluffy and Fido can enjoy the month with you. With Easter around the corner and bugs growing more active by the day, you want to be sure your Fido and Fluffy are protected this season.

This month is a special treat for plant lovers. Stores are stocked with gorgeous, aromatic Easter lilies. These stunning flowers make beautiful living bouquets and fill the gap before color bursts from the garden.

But beware if you own a cat. Easter lilies are extremely toxic to our kitties. A few nibbles of a flower or leaf can be fatal. Lilies cause sudden kidney failure. Progression can be so rapid that waiting a few hours may be too late. If your cat chews on any part of an Easter lily, bring your cat and the flower to your vet immediately.

The reason you should bring the flower to your vet is to positively identify the plant ingested.

Flowers and leaves of the genus Lilium are toxic to cats. These include Easter, tiger, Oriental and stargazer lilies. Day lilies belong to a different genus (Hemerocallis), but, like true lilies, they are extremely dangerous if eaten and cause rapid kidney failure.

Other lilies, such as peace or calla, are not true lilies. Lily of the valley is another misnomer. These plants do not cause renal failure in cats.

If Fido is the love of your life, don’t become complacent during Easter. Chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs are on the doggy no-no list. Many dogs crave sweets and will steal chocolate if given the opportunity.

Chocolate is dangerous for pets because it contains caffeine-like substances. Animals cannot metabolize these substances like humans do. Factors that influence chocolate poisoning are the size of the pet, the amount of chocolate consumed and the darkness of the chocolate.

In this respect, the most potent form of chocolate is baking chocolate. Its toxicity is about threefold that of semisweet chocolate, which in turn is about threefold that of milk chocolate. A 20-pound dog that eats 3 or 4 ounces of milk chocolate could show mild signs of toxicity. That same amount of semisweet chocolate could be lethal. And a deadly dose of baking chocolate in the same dog could be as little as 1 ounce.

Chocolate harms your pet by overstimulating his brain and heart. Chocolate also affects other organs. Clinical signs occur within six to 12 hours. They include increased thirst and urination, vomiting and diarrhea, restlessness, seizures, heart abnormalities, coma, and death.

If your pet eats chocolate, call your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center. They can determine if a toxic dose has been consumed, given your pet’s weight and the amount and kind of chocolate eaten. When chocolate poisoning is a concern, prompt veterinary treatment is important.

Another pet alert this month is for those creepy-crawly parasites.

Deer ticks flourish in our area. They have a two-year life cycle and have been eagerly waiting for this mild weather. Adult deer ticks are actively seeking blood meals this month. To avoid starvation, their sanguineous hunt is frantic. Juvenile deer ticks, or nymphs, are abundant in the spring. Because they are only the size of a poppy seed, nymphs are usually overlooked on pets’ coats.

Deer ticks spread several diseases, the most common in dogs in our area being Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. Both can be transmitted during a single bite. Cats are also susceptible to various tick diseases, although they appear to be resistant to Lyme disease.

Fleas have also been patiently waiting for spring. Fleas live on your pets for about a month, during which time each can lay hundreds of eggs. These eggs reside in your home as unwelcome tenants. When the weather warms and humidity increases, they begin furiously hatching, and the battle is on.

In addition to being nasty little parasites, fleas can spread disease. Both the cat and his human companion are at risk. Flea-transmitted illnesses include dermatitis, tapeworm infestation, cat scratch disease and plague.

Fortunately, both fleas and ticks are easy to avoid with monthly prevention. Most products are topical pesticides; however, a few FDA-approved medicines are now available.

Dogs can take a monthly pill to prevent fleas and ticks. This is a nice option for dogs that swim a lot, or for families who want to avoid pesticide residue on their pet’s coat. The selection of flea and tick preventives is mind-boggling, so ask your vet what is best for your Fido or Fluffy.

Enjoy the season, and keep your four-legged family members happy and healthy with you.

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Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital (www.BasslerVet.com) at Crossroads Plaza in Salisbury. She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on WNBP 106.1 FM and 1450 AM. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to heidibasslerdvm@comcast.net.