Spring has sprung and it feels so good! But before we jump right into enjoying the warmer weather and blooming flowers, it's important to take some precautions to ensure we all (humans and canines, alike) have a safe and fun season. Here are 21 spring safety tips to keep your dog happy and healthy.
Update ID Tags And Vaccines
Better weather means more time outside and that has a lot of benefits for both you and your pup. But it also means there are more opportunities for your dog to wander off. Make sure their identification tags are up-to-date and if not, update them with your current contact information. Also consider microchipping if you hadn't done that before.
In addition, making sure your dog is up-to-date on vaccines is helpful since spring and warmer weather means there's a greater chance you run into other dogs. This is more likely to happen now that walks are longer, trips to dog parks are happening and hiking trails are opening.
Know The Signs Of Seasonal Allergies
Like humans, dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies. In fact, according to vets, seasonal allergies are a major issue for pets with their peaks in spring and fall. Although there are a wide variety of allergens for dogs, the most common ones are grass, pollen, trees, weeds, dust and dust mites, mold, mildew, and environmental pollutants.
For a list of symptoms, check out our article all about seasonal allergies in dogs. If you think your dog is suffering from them, go to the vet for an evaluation. They'll likely do testing and come up with a treatment from there. It's important to note that pet allergies can't be cured but they can be successfully managed.
Groom Your Dog
Protect Against Ticks
Ticks are most active from March to mid-May and again from mid-August to November. These pests belong to the arachnoid species, meaning they are related to spiders, scorpions, and mites. They hide in low brush, bushes and grass waiting to attach to a host. The worst part about them is that they can transfer diseases like Lyme (from Deer ticks), Mountain Spotted Fever and other spotted fevers (from Lone Star ticks, Brown Dog ticks and others).
To prevent your dog contracting Lyme disease:
- Year-round preventative medications or vaccine.
- Medicated shampoos for the bath that kill ticks on contact (must be applied more often than medicine).
- Tick sprays or powders for use before heading out (not as effective and need to avoid applying it to your dog's face).
- Tick collars (tend to only protect your dog's neck and head, as they need to be in direct contact with skin to work).
- Insecticides to kills ticks outright.
- Frequent grooming and body checks, particularly if you and your dog spend a lot of time outdoors (always check for ticks right after a hike or outdoor adventure, especially the ears, groin, toes, eyelids, tail and anus).
Pro Tip: For dogs with long fur or a double-coat, use a hair dryer on a cool setting to part your dog's hair and check for ticks.
Taking these measures will greatly decrease the chances that your dog contracts Lyme disease and will allow you two to enjoy the outdoors with more peace of mind. For more information, read our article about Lyme disease.
Make Sure You're Using Heartworm Prevention
Another bug that begins to come out in the warmer weather is the mosquito. And infected mosquitos can transmit Heartworm disease. Heartworm is a serious, potentially fatal health issue caused by worm parasites called Dirofilaria immitis. Their presence leads to inflammation of the blood vessels and lungs, and in advanced infections, the worms can even enter your dog's heart. It's recommended that dogs take Heartworm medication all year, typically in a monthly tablet or oral application. But it's especially important to make sure your dog is taking Heartworm preventatives as the season turns. It's also recommended that your dog be checked for Heartworm once a year at the vet.
Protect Against Fleas
Flea season starts in the spring, usually in May (though fleas in the cold weather are still an issue, which is why it's important to use year-round treatment no matter the season). These small insects are external parasites that feed off of warm-blooded hosts like dogs. After their first blood meal, they breed and lay eggs in your dog's fur, beginning the nightmare cycle of a flea infestation. Signs your dog has fleas include:
- Intense, excessive itching or biting at the skin
- Red or irritated skin
- Scabs or hair loss
- Excessive licking
- The presence of "flea dirt" or flea droppings (tiny black specks that look like ground black pepper in the fur - usually near the tail, head, neck, armpit and belly - that turn dark reddish-brown with water)
- Red pimples or bumps on the groin and belly
- Fleas themselves (dark dots, smaller than ants)
- Flea eggs (tiny white ovals that fall off your dog onto their dog bed, the carpet and more)
- Pale gums
- Tapeworms (fleas can pass tapeworms onto dogs as well)
- Flea bites on you (which look like a small cluster or line of itchy, red bites - usually on the legs or ankles, sometimes on the armpits, waist or elsewhere)
Not only are year-round preventative flea and flea egg treatments recommended for your dog, but also for your home. This is because much of a flea's life cycle can occur off of a host. And your home creates a more-than-suitable environment for flea and egg survival. To help prevent fleas in the home, try frequent cleaning like regularly vacuuming and washing dog beds, toys and any bedding or linens your dog comes in contact with.
Pro Tip: Use hot water when washing items as it's typically more effective at killing any fleas or flea eggs.
Be Careful With Lawn And Garden Care Products
As the snow melts and the dead grass turns green again, we begin to reprioritize our landscaping. That often means using fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides, all of which can be dangerous to our dogs. So just make sure to read the labels and follow the directions for recommended waiting time before letting your pup back on the lawn or in the garden. Also, make sure to store all lawn care products in a safe and secure place where your dog can't get into them.
Avoid These Toxic Spring Plants
April showers brings May flowers. But many of those are toxic to dogs, so it's important to make sure you and your dog are careful around them. Toxic plants and flowers your may encounter this Spring include:
- Bulb plants like Tulips, Hyacinths, Irises, and Daffodils (the whole plant is toxic, but toxins are most concentrated in the bulb, making it the most dangerous part of the plant).
- Sago Palms
- Azaleas and Rhododendrons
- Chrysanthemums or mums
- Birds of paradise
- Baby's breath (mildly toxic)
- Lilies, which are especially popular for Easter
If you think your dog has ingested any of these or is showing signs, contact your vet immediately or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435. For more information, check out our article about toxic plants and some alternatives.
Avoid Standing Water
Spring showers may bring flowers, but it also brings puddles. These may be appealing to your dog, who sees it as free water to drink, but it's best to avoid letting them do so. This is because it's standing water, which is a breeding ground for bacteria, parasites and other unhealthy organisms (like Giardia or Leptospirosis, both of which require medical attention and can cause serious health issues if left untreated). Always make sure to provide your dog with fresh water by either bringing along a water bottle or water bowl.
Know What To Do For Stings
Blooming flowers and warmer temperatures often go hand-in-hand with bees and other similar stinging bugs. This means there's a higher chance your dog gets stung, which is not uncommon. Dogs are curious animals that explore the world with their face, nose, mouth and paws. Bees and the like, though, see dogs as threats and attack them with their stinger. The most common spots that dogs get stung are the face, mouth and paws. Signs of bee stings in dogs include:
- Itching, biting or agitation
- Difficulty breathing
- Anaphylactic Shock (which can be fatal)
If your dog gets stung, call your vet as soon as possible. Try to locate and remove the stinger because the longer it sits in the skin, the more poison enters their body. You can remove it by scraping it with your fingernail or a credit card, coin or similar item. Tweezers should be a last resort because squeezing the stinger forces out more poison.
Avoid Stick Chewing
There are likely a lot of branches left over from winter, which many dogs love. They like running with, fetching and chewing on these fallen branches. But sticks can pose a risk for your dog, as they can splinter and injure your pup or cause an obstruction in the digestive tract. So it's recommended you avoid letting your dog chew on or play with any branches or sticks.
Watch Out For Snakes
Another one of spring's many critters to watch out for are snakes. Snake season begins in the spring, typically March to April, and ends late fall or winter depending on weather and location. Generally, it's time to watch for snakes when the average daytime temperature is 60º or more.
Dogs are most often bit in the backyard, on hiking trails and riverbeds, in parks and pools, and around shrubs, gardens and flower beds. Signs of a snake bite will vary based on the kind of snake and the toxicity of their venom. In general though, look for:
- Yelping in pain
- Fang or puncture wounds
- Shortness of breath
- Drop in blood pressure
Fortunately, most snakes in the U.S. aren't venomous, but that doesn't mean they can't still cause issues for your dog. Moreover, it's often hard to know what type of snake bit your dog. That's why contacting a vet immediately is so important. They'll most likely tell you to bring your dog in as soon as possible, in addition to limiting your dog's movement to prevent the spread of venom and positioning the bite below your dog’s heart.
Here are some tips to avoid snake bites:
- Familiarize yourself with local snakes (appearance, hours of activity, hiding spots, etc.).
- Leash your dog during peak snake season, even in your backyard
- Keep your grass cut short and trees or bushes pruned (so branches don't touch the ground).
- Fill any holes in your yard.
- Clear any unnecessary piles of rocks, wood, leaves, mulch, pine straw, brush, etc.
- Keep your garage and sheds closed, protect any potential entrances to the house (fireplaces, dryer vents, heating and air conditioning units, exhausts systems, etc.) and repair any cracks in your home.
- Install fencing with mechanisms for keeping snakes out of the yard.
- Walk the opposite direction during an encounter, as snakes can strike quickly and cover many feet.
Ease Into Exercise To Avoid Injury
Many of us have been less active in the winter, which may be true for our dogs too. If this is the case, try to ease into exercise to avoid any related injuries. Start slowly and gradually up the intensity as you and your pet's strength and endurance increases.
Prepare For Storms
Spring season can be storm season for certain locations and many dogs get anxious around thunder and lightning (much like they do around fireworks). So if your dog dislikes storms, you may want to start preparing for them. You can look into natural calming aids such as CBD, thunder jackets, diffusing essential oils or Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) plug-ins. You can also:
- Arrange a comforting, safe space - This can be their crate, the bedroom, closet, bathroom, or simply being near you. You can put their dog bed, blankets and toys with them for extra comfort and make sure they always have access to their water bowl. Pro Tip: Close windows, draw curtains and explore the basement as these can all help muffle the sounds of a storm.
- Play noise - Playing music, television, talk radio or white noise can help calm your dog and drown out some of the loud booms. Pro Tip: Music with gentle sounds can help ease anxiety. Specifically, classical music called "Through A Dog’s Ear" has been shown to have calming effects for dogs.
- Provide distractions - This can be hands-on like playing games or giving them something long-lasting to work on (like bully sticks to chew or puzzle toys) to keep your dog's mind off of what's going on.
- Exercise beforehand, if possible - Extra exercise (a long or second walk, running, a game of fetch, or some dog park) can help your dog feel more relaxed and tired - and thus less reactive to the stressor. It's most important to get extra exercise the day of, but during the week can work too.
- Stay Calm when comforting your dog - Dogs are observant, able to pick up on changes in your behavior and emotions. So it's important to remain calm when your pup is stressed as well as when reassuring them, as overdoing it can add to and reinforce their anxiety.
- Desensitize your dog - You can try to desensitize your dog to thunder. Do so by introducing the sound at a low volume and rewarding your dog for not reacting. As your dog progresses, slowly increase the volume while continuing to reward for no reaction.
- Consult a vet or trainer - If the anxiety is too severe, you may want to talk to your vet or a trainer. Trainers may be more effective at desensitizing your dog. If all else fails, your vet can prescribe medication for their anxiety.
Use Screens On Window And Doors
Opening the windows during spring is one of the most refreshing feelings. But if your windows or doors don't have screens, this could be dangerous for your dog. Not only could they fall through an unscreened window, but they can jump or run off if not secured inside somehow.
Spring Clean Safely
Spring is the time when people do some major cleaning (hence the term "spring cleaning") and while this is important, it can pose some risks to our pets. Many common ingredients in household cleaners are toxic to dogs. These include, but are not limited to:
- Chlorine and bleach (often found in toilet bowl cleaners, dishwasher detergent and general disinfectants)
- Ammonia (common ingredient in cleaners for ovens, windows, floors, stainless steel surfaces and beyond).
- Glycol Ethers (commonly found in liquid soaps, all-purpose cleaners and spot treatment cleaners. They are usually denoted in the ingredients list as “ethylene glycol,” “propylene glycol,” or “diethylene glycol.”)
- Formaldehyde (also found in household items like soaps, all-purpose cleaners, shampoos and fragrances.)
- Quarternary Ammonium Compounds or “QUATS” (commonly found in fabric softeners and many items labeled "antibacterial.")
Even "natural" products aren't risk free for our dogs, so look for products that are pet-friendly or keep pets confined away until all cleaning is done and dry. And make sure to store cleaners where your dog can't get to them.
Again, if you think your dog ingested something toxic, contact your vet immediately or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435.
Be Careful With Home Improvement Products
Though summer is the most popular time of the year for home improvement projects, many people get started in spring. These can be things you discovered needed fixing during winter, such as replacing old windows and adding insulation. Or they can be new projects like building a deck or patio to be ready in time for summer. No matter what the project, there are risks for our dogs. Many home improvement products are toxic to dogs and can cause irritation, health issues and burns. Make sure to read all labels, avoid using anything unsafe for them to breathe, wait the proper amount of time before letting them around and store any products out of reach. In addition, be careful using nails, staples, saws and blades, power tools and more. It's always a good idea to keep your dog in another room when doing home improvement projects.
Be Aware Of Rising Temperatures
Springtime means more sun and rising temperatures, which also means it's time to make sure our dogs don't overheat. To do so, you'll want your dog to stay well-hydrated and have access to shade. Also, monitor your dog so you can bring them inside your house or apartment where there's air conditioning, fans or other cooling mechanisms. In addition, don't leave your dog in the car alone, as temperatures can rise more quickly inside the vehicle. Other tips for the heat:
- Bring water bottles or leave a water bowl with fresh water out to keep your dog hydrated
- Check the concrete temperature for your dog's paws or use booties
- Avoid peak sun and heat hours (typically 12 to 3 PM)
- Look into if your dog can benefit from a summer haircut
- Use canine sunscreen, particularly for dogs with short or light-colored fur and hairless breeds
- Use frozen treats, cooling mats or vests, kiddie pools and other summer essentials to stay cool.
- Know the signs of overheating and heatstroke.
It's always a good idea to be prepared, just in case, and knowing the signs of heatstroke can save lives. If you see your dog excessively panting without resolution, it can indicate heatstroke. Other signs include dark red or purple tongue, difficulty breathing, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat and vomiting.
Pro Tip: Brachycephalic breeds (those with short muzzles), overweight dogs, dogs with thick or heavy fur, and older dogs are more prone to heatstroke.
Rising temperatures also means that any leftover ice is thawing and you'll want to keep your dog away from any frozen areas. Using a leash and keeping an eye out is the best way to ensure your dog doesn't fall into a cold lake or pond.
For more tips, read our article on keeping dogs safe in the heat and our article about what temperature is too hot for your dog.
Give Yourself A Dog Park Etiquette Refresher
Dog parks are, naturally, more popular when the weather is nicer. So when spring comes around and you and your dog do well socializing at dog parks, it may be an activity you choose to do. But it's a good idea to brush up on dog park etiquette before going, as there are many written and unwritten rules and it may have been a while since you two went given the season. For a general list, read our article about dog park rules and etiquette.
Keep Dogs Away From Easter Chocolate And Goodies
Easter baskets are usually filled with delicious chocolates. But chocolate is dangerous to dogs (something you probably already know) because it contains theobromine and caffeine, which stimulate a dog's nervous system and cause other issues. Signs of chocolate poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, hyperactivity, increased or abnormal heart rate, pancreatitis and seizure. To learn exactly why chocolate is bad for dogs, read our article on chocolate and dogs.
Pro Tip: The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it is to dogs.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center receives daily calls about dogs consuming chocolate, but numbers increase on holidays like Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Christmas. If you think your dog ate chocolate, contact your vet immediately or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435.
Other toxic or dangerous items and substances to watch out for over Easter include goodies with the toxic sugar substitute Xylitol, candy wrappers, plastic eggs, fake grass and unpeeled hard-boiled eggs.
For more information, read our article about Easter safety for pets.
Keep Dogs Safe On Car Rides
Nicer weather means you can get out on the road, roll the windows down and get some fresh air flowing in your car. Dogs often love sticking their head out on car rides to feel the wind on their face. But it's not always the safest as debris and insects can cause ear, eye and lung issues while abrupt stops could lead to injury. Make sure to always secure your dog in the car using a dog seatbelt or their crate.