Hopefully last Sunday's high of 85 degrees in the middle of March does not mean that we are going to jump straight from winter into summer, but it is a reminder that spring is here and it's time to get our dogs in shape for warmer temperatures and the bothersome pests that come with it.
Mother Nature dictates that when warmer weather arrives it's time for all dogs (except those with single, non-shedding coats) to lose the dense undergrowth they've accumulated during the winter.
But it's not just the change in the temperature that starts the "hairball" in motion. Almost as if a switch had been thrown, a few days after the time change I started seeing clumps of black hair on my wood floors caused by the lengthening of daylight hours.
While a week previously a thorough brush-out of Frank's coat produced only a couple of handfuls of hair, last week's grooming session yielded a whole bagful. The next day I gave him a nice warm bath to loosen even more coat and using a high-velocity dryer to blow it out (providing a year's worth of nesting material for the neighborhood birds), followed by another brushing and another bag of hair.
The importance of removing dead undercoat cannot be overstated. For starters, the majority of the coat that is shed will not fall to your floors. It will clump and lay underneath the outer coat like a felt jacket, closing off air to the skin and becoming a collection place for dirt, grass, twigs and dry skin. Once this happens dogs can start scratching and chewing due to the irritation, and if they get fixated on a particular area, produce those nasty, weeping sore areas known as "hot spots." While there are countless remedies claiming to cure hot spots that can be purchased or concocted following directions on the Internet, once the itch-scratch cycle starts it can be a devilish one to break and require veterinary intervention.
Fleas and ticks
As soon as the cold winter temperatures depart, the risk for flea and tick infestation increases, and even if you use a pest control service, wild animals and stray cats and dogs can still bring pests onto your property where they can hitchhike into your house on your pet or pant leg. Once inside, a single female flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day, which will roll off a dog and into the carpets or crevices in your house and remain there as they pass through the larvae stage into that of the biting and blood-sucking adult.
For some dogs, the bite of one single flea is enough to kick-start a frenzy of obsessive chewing, scratching and sleepless nights and cause a chain-reaction of other problems like hot-spots, skin infections and tapeworm infestation.
While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of preventatives against ticks, the best ones have been shown to at least slow them down, enabling their removal. Ticks are creatures of opportunity that wait for a dog out on a walk or run to stick their head or shoulders into shrubs or wooded areas, and then grab themselves a ride and a bite to eat. Besides the fact that some ticks carry disease which can be transmitted to humans, these insidious and disgusting creatures are even worse houseguests who lay more eggs and are harder to kill than fleas.
Even if your dog never leaves home, speak to your veterinarian about whether an oral medication or one that is applied to the skin is the best choice for your dog's flea and tick protection.
Because mosquitoes are the transmission hosts for the heartworm parasite and are more common in warmer months, I'm including the need to use a heartworm preventative in my spring checklist for dogs.
Largely poo-pooed by some as a parasite only prevalent in the Southeast and no cause for alarm, the combination of rising temperatures and the number of animals being transported across state lines has created an increased risk for heartworm infection in the Western states, and according to the American Heartworm Society, heartworm has been diagnosed in nearly every county in every state in the country.
According to Katheryn Atkinson, board certified veterinary cardiologist at Cardiology West in southwest Portland, "All it takes is someone traveling from Georgia or North Carolina with an infected dog, and that dog serves as a reservoir to infect the entire dog population."
Increased risks for infection in the Western states include the large number of untested and infected dogs that are being relocated via rescue organizations across state lines, and the conservative estimate that positive heartworm cases for the coyote population in California is at 20 percent and growing.
Since you will have no way of knowing if the mosquito that bites your dog carries the heartworm parasite until he becomes sick, testing yearly or the use of a preventive just makes good sense.
Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@ yahoo.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.