How to Avoid a Springtime Visit to the ER Veterinarian

Ah, spring. The scent of flowers. The warm sun on your face. And to the ER veterinarian, spring also means cha-ching! (which is unfortunate for pet owners and their pets!).

Most emergency room (ER) veterinarians cringe when they have to work on gorgeous, sunny spring days, as it typically means it’ll be a busy (albeit financially productive) day in the ER. That’s because as weather warms, we see a huge spike in dogs and cats presenting to the ER for the following reasons:

  • Hit-by-car accidents
  • BDLD: "big-dog-little-dog" fights
  • Lily poisoning in cats
  • Antifreeze poisoning in dogs
  • Flea and tick poisoning in cats (due to a "small dog" product being applied to a "big cat")
  • Allergic reactions
  • Heat stroke

As many of these causes are deadly but preventable, here are some tips on how to avoid a warm-weather visit to your veterinarian.

First, keep your dog on a leash. While we all want to frolic in the warm weather, it can be deadly for your dog.  If you can’t call your dog immediately back from chasing a squirrel or a deer with a strict "Leave it!" or "Come!" command, then your dog shouldn’t be off-leash.

My dog, JP, used to respond to a "Down!" command mid-chase, and would drop and stay immediately even while in hot pursuit. If your dog can’t do that, no free roaming allowed. Sounds harsh, but it’s tough love when it comes to keeping your dog safe in an unsecured, unfenced area. After all, I’ve seen so many dogs die secondary to their owner’s lack of obedience training and respect for the leash. It only takes one squirrel and one street to make for a deadly (or expensive) accident., if your dog is aggressive, spare us all and keep him leashed, neutered, and away from dog parks. BDLD fights can cause severe injury to the back, muscles, chest, lungs, and skin of the victim (typically, the small dog or cat), thanks to the "shake and break" instinct of the attacker. You’ve seen your own dog do this when playing with a chew toy — shaking his head vigorously. It’s instinct to attempt to break the neck of their prey, and this "shake and break" results in severe injury to whatever’s in their mouth. The majority of BDLD fights I see are when a small dog or cat went wandering around the neighborhood unleashed, only to walk onto a big dog’s property (again, leashes folks!). Likewise, if your dog is aggressive, please don’t leave him outside unsupervised, even if he is tied.

Thirdly, spring poisonings. Being that I work at a Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control based out of Minneapolis, I can say that we see a huge spike in calls about poisonings in the spring … especially with plant, yard, or garden poisonings. Common poisonous plants that pets get into this time of the year include lilies (which causes severe kidney failure in cats), spring bulbs, azaleas, sago palm, and fertilizers (like bone meal, blood meal, rose and flower products, etc.). Simply keeping your pets supervised while they are outdoors will spare them from being  exposed to some of these common dangers in the yard.

Lastly, heat stroke. As the weather warms, people naturally leave the comfort of their homes to go outside to exercise. But what they often forget is that heat plus humidity can be deadly to their four-legged exercise partners. Most dog owners are smart enough to realize that running in 90 degree heat is a bad idea. However, it’s actually that seemingly cooler 80-degree day that pet owners should avoid. While you may think this is just a nice, sunny day, it’s too hot for your dog to have evaporative cooling, despite all his panting. I’ve seen too many dogs die on days registering 80ºF with 80 percent humidity. When in doubt, if heat + humidity > 150, it’s too hot to exercise with Fido.

I’ll cover some other topics in future blogs, but when in doubt, take a close look at the above list and spare yourself and your pet a springtime ER visit! Your pet and wallet will thank you in the long run.

What about you? Do you have any pointers on how to avoid ER visits?

Dr. Justine Lee

Pic of the day: Stop to smell the flowers by wiserbailey

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