Spring is in the air…

Easter for many heralds the arrival of spring and is the season when all around us new life is bursting forth from every direction.  Spring is an exciting time of year as we shrug off the dark, cold days of winter and start to look forward with eager anticipation to our plans for the longer days and better weather that lies ahead.


However this time of year also poses a number of distinct threats to our four pawed friends so have a read of the following to ensure that your spring and Easter joy is dampened only by the weather and not by an unexpected trip to the vets!


For advice on dealing with any of the below and other potential problems please refer to our first aid presentation which can be found on this page and contains lots of useful hints and tips.


1. Easter eggs!

Is chocolate really that dangerous for dogs? Yes! Don’t be tempted to share your Easter eggs with your dog – it could kill them.

Chocolate (which is made from cocoa) contains an ingredient called theobromine which is very toxic to dogs (as well as cats, ferrets, rabbits and rats). The cocoa content of the chocolate determines the risk of toxicity and dark/plain chocolate, cooking chocolate and cocoa powder used in baking carry particularly high risks – 50g of plain chocolate could be fatal to a small dog.  Milk chocolate is generally less dangerous, but even 100g of milk chocolate could still cause severe symptoms in a small dog.

Symptoms of toxicity can appear between 4 and 24 hours after ingestion and include vomiting, restlessness, muscle tremors/twitching, excessive thirst, drooling and even seizures.

If you notice that any chocolate has gone missing, always suspect your pet and seek veterinary advice if necessary.  The size of the dog, and the amount consumed, determines the risk of toxicity and the link below contains a useful ‘chocolate calculator’ to establish the threat to your pet in the event of a known or suspected ingestion:

Chocolate toxicity calculator!


2. Hot cross buns!

These Easter treats contain raisins, currants and sultanas – all of which are toxic to dogs.

Many people ask “is it ok to give my dog a few raisins or grapes?” The answer is no. Some dogs are more sensitive to the toxic effects of grapes than others but it is impossible to predict how sensitive your dog might be and sometimes only a very small quantity can cause severe kidney failure.

Many seemingly harmless products also contain raisins or use raisin paste in their production e.g. granola bars.

If you suspect your dog has eaten these dried fruits, get straight to the vet and tell them what you think your pet has eaten immediately.


3. Sugar-free sweets and chocolate!

Diabetic or trying to cut the calories? Sugar-free Easter Eggs and chocolates usually contain a plant-derived sweetener known as ‘Xylitol’.  Though very safe for humans, xylitol is very dangerous to dogs as it can lead to a disastrous fall in blood sugar levels, causing collapse and even death.

Xylitol is also contained in wide range of other sugar-free snacks, gums and sweets so always be careful.


4. Lilies!


These popular and pretty Spring flowers pose a particularly high threat to cats.  Members of the Lilium and Hermerocallis genera are toxic to cats and this includes Easter lilies, Day lilies, Tiger lilies, and Stargazer lilies.

All parts of the plant – including the stem, leaves, petals, stamens and pollen – are poisonous to cats.   Even minor exposure (chewing on a leaf or getting pollen on their coat or whiskers) can be fatal.  Often there are no immediate signs of poisoning  but within a few days your cat will develop acute kidney failure which can be very difficult to treat.

Cat owners should therefore avoid bringing buches of flowers containing lilies into the house and not grow them in the garden either.  If you believe your cat may have had some form of contact with these plants then early veterinary attention is essential for successful treatment.


5. Tulips, daffodils and other flowering bulbs!

The bulbs of these flowering plants are often quite appealing to dogs who will often chew or consume them.  They cause severe gastrointestinal irritation and ulceration leading to severe vomiting and diarrhoea with blood loss.  The resulting fluid loss can also lead to dehydration which may need hospitalisation and intravenous fluids to resolve.

Keep unplanted bulbs away from your dog and if you have them planted in your garden ensure that they remain well buried and watch that your dog doesn’t show an interest in digging them up; if you believe your dog may have chewed or consumed any bulbs then seek veterinary advice.


6. Adders and insect bites and stings

Adders usually start to emerge from hibernation in spring time and because temperatures are still low they need to spend a lot of time out in the open to gradually warm themselves up.  During this time they are also quite sluggish and often cannot move quickly enough to get out of the way of hazards such as passing dogs so they may strike out in self-defence, injecting venom with their bite as they do so.

When adders bite it usually causes immediate alarm and you may see two small puncture wounds about 2cm apart where the fangs have penetrated the skin.  Within a few minutes the affected area usually starts to swell and this is accompanied by severe pain.  The swelling then usually spreads over a much wider area over the next few hours and can lead to systemic  shock and even death so early veterinary treatment is critical if you suspect that your dog may have been bitten.

This time of year is also when the first bees and wasps start to emerge to soak up a bit of sunshine and seek some food.  Young dogs and cats find them particularly intriguing and as they also tend to be very sluggish at this time of year they are less able to escape their attentions, inevitably resulting in stings to the face and paws in particular. Though these are rarely life-threatening they do usually cause quite a marked swelling and there is always the risk that a sting to the face or mouth could affect their ability to breath if the airway is affected so if in doubt seek veterinary advice.

7. Fleas, ticks, lungworm and other parasites!

Easter may traditionally represent a holy resurrection for but for our pets it also represents a time where many parasitic threats are resurrected after the cold winter spell.

Fleas, ticks and worms all start to proliferate with the first bit of spring sunshine and now is the time to ensure that your pets are fully up to date with all their flea and worming treatment.  Please ask us for advice on an effective and carefully tailored regime to ensure that your pet is adequately protected according to their particular habits and lifestyle – remember that only veterinary supplied products will adequately protect against the deadly lungworm.

Ticks love damp, mild conditions and there is always a rise in the population during the Spring. Ticks can carry Lymes disease which is a threat to people as well as pets. The changing UK climate has seen a large increase in numbers and has also enabled continental species of ticks to survive in the UK which means that new diseases such as the blood parasite Babesia are likely to be seen with increasing frequency. Ask us about the latest tick preventatives and make sure you have a twisting tick hook in your pet first aid kit – don’t be tempted to pull or prise them off as the head can break off and remain embedded in the skin causing a nasty infection.  See here for more information on the disease risk posed by these unpleasant blood sucking parasites.

We also see the re-emergence of garden slugs and snails at this time of year and these spread the lungworm which is such a big threat to dogs in this area – click here for more.  Remember that your pet doesn’t need to necessarily eat these garden pests to acquire lungworm infection and also be aware that no pet shop wormers will treat or prevent disease so make sure you pop into the surgery to obtain a suitable product.  Signs of lungworm are varied and include weakness/lethargy, seizures and blood clotting problems resulting in spontaneous bleeds and bruising.

Spring is also a time when we tend to see the first cases of myxomatosis in our rabbit patients (spread by fleas, midges and mosquitoes) so make sure your rabbit is vaccinated annually against this fatal disease.


8. Poisons!


As mentioned above, spring is the time of year when garden pests such as slugs and snails start to re-appear and many people will put down slug pellets to protect newly planted flowerbeds and vegetable plots.  However these pellets are often palatable to some dogs and cats and many contain a chemical known as ‘metaldehyde’ which can be extremely toxic if ingested.  Initially it causes twitching and muscle tremors which then progress to seizures, convulsions and even death if untreated.  Make sure that any slug baits used are advertised as being safe for pets and check that they do not contain metaldehyde – educating neighbours as to the threat is also important with respect to cats who may stray from the garden boundary.

Many people will also see a sudden surge in the amount of vermin lurking around sheds, greenhouses and outbuildings in the springtime and will put down rat poison to try to resolve the issue.  Most rat poisons contain synthetic versions of warfarin-like compounds (or ‘dicoumarols’) and they are often combined with tempting food items which your pet cat or dog would find very tasty as well should they obtain access to them.  These poisons interfere with blood clotting and slowly kill through internal blood loss.   Treatment is possible as long as diagnosed reasonably early – signs include weakness, rapid breathing, pale gums and nose bleeds and multiple skin bruising.  Avoid using rat poison at all ideally and again educate your neighbours as to the risk posed by such poisons.

9. Allergies

Spring is when our green and pleasant land bursts into life again and our gardens and parks are soon awash with colour from blossoming trees and hedgerows.  However this blossom releases vast clouds of pollen into the air and in people can result in hayfever symptoms well before all the summer grasses and pollens appear.  These pollens can also result in severe allergies in our pets, usually affecting the skin and causing intense inflammation leading to itching and secondary infections.   We always see a surge in skin problems with the appearance of the first flowers of spring with ear and feet problems particularly common.  If you suspect your pet is unusually itchy this spring (and you have excluded fleas as a cause!) then it may well be these pollens that are the culprits so contact us for advice if your pet seems to be distressed or in any discomfort.


10. Fertilisers!



At this time of year many keen gardeners will be getting their lawns, flowerbeds and vegetable patches ready for the growing season by applying fertiliser to the soil.  Fertilisers are often made from animal or fish sources (such as meat and bone meal) or composted vegetable matter, all of which are very tasty to most dogs!

These fertilisers contain large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (potash or NPK) as well as the metals iron, copper, zinc, cobalt, boron, manganese and molybdenum, some of which may be toxic when consumed.  Additionally, fertilizers may also contain herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides which increases the risk of poisoning. While small ingestions generally only result in a mild stomach upset, larger ingestions can result in gastrointestinal ulceration and life-threatening pancreatitis.

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