Spring and Summer Safety Tips for Our Pets

Posted on May 11th, 2015, 09:54 AM America/Los_Angeles

By Tiffany Mitchener, DVM

This lovely time of year with its warm temperatures, blue skies, and sunshine beckons us to spend more time outdoors. It also energizes us to tackle home projects and dig into the garden. As you enjoy all that spring and summer have to offer, be sure to keep your pets safe.

April showers bring May flowers…

Spring and early summer bring new growth and decorate many gardens with colorful flowers. Care should be taken to keep pets away from these plants. Many bulb-based flowers are poisonous to pets. Of particular concern are the spring flowers: tulips, hyacinth, daffodils, lilies, crocus, and lily of the valley. Other plants in the garden can be toxic to pets as well. The ASPCA website maintains a list of toxic plants with pictures for reference. If you are concerned that your pet may have ingested a toxic plant, contact your veterinarian.


Spring and summer are the seasons to tend to a garden. Be careful to keep chemicals out of the reach of pets. In particular, metaldehyde, the active ingredient in snail and slug bait, can have a sweet taste to dogs. Some dogs will actively seek it out and ingest it. It is highly toxic in very small quantities; a single teaspoon of 2% bait can kill a ten-pound dog.

Fertilizers and mulch can also be toxic to animals. Use care when applying them to your garden, and be sure to store them in a secure location. Be particularly careful when using cocoa bean mulch, as it is highly palatable to dogs. Ingesting it can result in a chocolate toxicity. Because of all the potential hazards, it is important to keep your dog out of your garden as well as your neighbor’s!


This time of year is the height of tick season when the population of these pesky arachnids explodes. Extra precautions should be taken if you take your pet for a walk in the woods. Ideally, dogs should be placed on a tick preventative before the outdoor stroll. There are several new and effective tick preventatives available on the market. Contact your veterinarian to determine which one would be best for your pet. It is important to note that not all flea preventatives work against ticks.

After a walk in the woods, carefully screen your pet’s body for ticks. According to a study performed by the Santa Cruz County Mosquito and Vector Control staff and the California Department of Public Health, at least two percent of the adult Western blacklegged ticks in our county contain the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. In order for a tick-borne infection to be transmitted, a feeding tick must be attached to the skin of the host for at least 24 hours. This is why it is so important to screen your pet’s body after every walk in tick-infested areas.


Foxtails are bristly plant awns that grow in great abundance in Santa Cruz County. Once the plant heads dry, they are particularly notorious for attaching to animals. The foxtails are barbed; once attached to an animal, they always move in a forward direction and can easily migrate internally. Foxtails will often enter an animal through the nose, ears, eyes, mouth, or simply the skin (especially between toes). Extreme head shaking or excessive sneezing can be a hint that a pet has picked up a foxtail. However, some foxtails are “silent,” and the pet will show no clinical signs. Foxtails do not disintegrate in the body, and internal foxtails can be extremely difficult to diagnose and treat. Avoidance of all foxtail exposure is the best prevention. If your pet has been exposed to foxtails, it is important to carefully comb through his or her hair coat, using extra care to check ears and between toes, a couple times daily. If you suspect that your pet may have a foxtail, it is extremely important to seek veterinary care.

Spring Cleaning

This is the time of year when many home improvement projects are started. It is important to realize that many household cleansers and chemicals are toxic to pets. Nails, staples, insulation, and power tools can all cause physical harm to pets. Be sure to keep your pet in a “safe room” when deep cleaning of the home or construction is in progress. All materials should be carefully locked away at the end of the day before the pet is allowed out to explore. If you’re struggling to clean up thoroughly after your pets it may be time to invest in a more high-tech Bissell vacuum cleaner.

Other Seasonal Tips

Pets often have increased access to outside as the weather warms up. Make sure your pet is microchipped and the information is up-to-date in case it strays a bit too far from home. A microchip is the fastest way to reunite you with your lost pet.

If you like traveling, and don’t want to put your pet into a boarding school, then consider only staying at hotel chains which allow pets. Websites such as petfriendlyhotelchain.com can help you in finding a pet friendly hotel chain.

If your pet likes to travel with you in your car, remember those warmer temperatures. A car parked in the sun on a warm day even with the windows cracked can quickly reach life-threatening temperatures for your pet inside. Use care and common sense when traveling with your pet. Sometimes, it is just safer to leave him or her at home. You can get a home security camera for pets if you want to keep an eye on them when you’re gone.

This time of year can be lovely, but as the outdoors beckon, there are new risks for our companion animals. With a bit of common sense and strong preventive measures, make this a joyful time for you and your pet!

Picture of Dr. Mitchener

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