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Dr. Patrick Mahaney Debunks Spring Pet Myths for AOL PawNation

Spring has sprung, so AOL's PawNation contacted me to weigh in on spring's influence on pet health and illness in a article originally appearing as Dr. Patrick Mahaney Debunks Spring Pet Myths for AOL PawNation.

In terms of animals, is "spring fever" real?

In reference to animals, I speculate that many pets aren’t necessarily feeling lazy. In fact, most pets (and people) are more prone to being restless and more motivated to engage in physical activity after being confined to the warmth of the indoors during the outdoor harshness of wintry months. Yet, we also must consider the geographic correlations with winter’s chill or warmth, as not all parts of the country or world aren’t exceedingly cold between fall and spring. Such is one of the reasons why I relish living in the seemingly perpetually balmy climate of southern California.

When it comes to spring and canine or feline restlessness and return to activity, it’s vital to make sure that a pets does not have an overzealous reengagement into an active mode. Especially with adult and geriatric pets, it’s important to start slowly and gradually build in duration and intensity of exercise to prevent injury or illness. Additionally, if your pet has any speculated or known health concerns (arthritis, cancer, digestive tract ailments, etc.), schedule an examination with your veterinarian before any exercise is undertaken. Pending your veterinarian’s evaluation and the results of any recommended diagnostic testing (blood, urine, and fecal testing, x-rays, etc.), ask for specific recommendations about the type, intensity and duration of the exercise sessions in which your pet can engage.

I heard that I can give my dog allergy medication like Benadryl. I’m too afraid. Is it OK for canines?

Yes, you can give your dog a human allergy medication like Benadryl. The active ingredient is Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride. It is typically used to create an antihistamine response in a pet suffering from an acute (sudden) onset hypersensitivity reaction (bee sting, etc.) or seasonal and non-seasonal allergies.

To ensure that you use the product in a safe and appropriate manner, it is best that you consult with your veterinarian about your pet’s need for an antihistamine. Pending your veterinarian’s evaluation, a body weight-appropriate dosage and frequency can be recommended.

Typically, Benadryl is quite safe and has a common side effect of mild to moderate sedation. If your pet is currently taking any opioid-based pain medication (Tramadol, etc.) or other sedatives (Acepromazine, other antihistamines, etc.), then the sedative effect of Benadryl can be exacerbated.

When administering Benadryl, it is vitally important that you give a dose of pure Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride and not a form of the drug containing other medications that help cold or sinus symptoms (cough suppressants, expectorants, pain medication, decongestants, etc.).

I read that spring is prime breeding season for feral cats. Is this true? Could my outdoor cat get hurt by one?

Yes, spring through fall is a common time of the year for feral cats to breed. This is primarily due to then trend for intact female cats (those that have their reproductive parts) going into heat during this time. Additionally, female cats are induced ovulators and will continue to go through their estrus cycles until they are bred by male cats.

According to a Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) study, "Reproductive Capacity of Free-Roaming Domestic Cats and Kitten Survival Rate," the months having the highest percentage of pregnant feral cats are March, April and May.

Yes, your outdoor cat could get hurt by another cat interested in reproducing or protecting his or her territory from incoming competitors for reproductive rights. It is best that your outdoor cat lives a lifestyle more aligned with being indoors, as this will keep him safe from trauma associated with cat fights, automobile accidents, falls, etc. Additionally, there is the increased likelihood of your cat will be exposed to environmental (molds, etc.) and manmade (rodenticides, fertilizers, etc.) toxins during day-to-day outdoor excursions.

In general, cats that dwell exclusively indoors live longer and healthier lives than those spending time both inside and outside.

Can dogs and cats get skin cancer despite all the fur covering their skin?

Yes, dogs and cats can get skin cancer despite the thick or thin coat of fur covering their skin’s surface. There are a variety of skin cancers that can appear on the surface of the skin or in the deeper layers, depending on the genetics of the pet and the type of cancer cells present. Cancer can be benign or malignant, with benign typically being less severe and malignant having a much more serious (potentially life-threatening) connotation.

Some of the most common skin cancers include Melanoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Mast Cell Tumor, Hemangiosarcoma and Cutaneous Lymphoma.

Diagnosis typically involves either fine needle aspirate (a needle inserted into tissue to remove a small population of cells) or biopsy (removal of a larger chunk of tissue to reveal the multilayered architecture of the affected skin) and cytology (microscopic evaluation of cells).

Pending the diagnosis, the most appropriate treatment can be pursued. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, nutritional support, nutraceuticals, Chinese herbs, and others.

Should you discover any unusual appearance to your pet’s skin, including lumps, non-healing lesions, areas of warmth or discomfort to the touch, etc., immediately bring the site to the attention of your veterinarian.

More bugs are out during the spring. Should I be supplementing my dog’s flea-and-tick medication with a spray or baths?

Yes, spring, summer, and most parts of fall share a climate that tends to be warmer and more humid.  As a result of the combination of heat and humidity, ectoparasites — such as fleas, ticks, flies and others — thrive, bite our pets, and potentially spread a variety of infectious organisms (bacteria, virus, parasites, etc.).

Depending on your pet’s daily habits and the environment in which he spends time, there may be a need for traditional anti-parasitic medication (topical and oral treatments) in combination with sprays or bathing with an ectoparasite-killing shampoo.

In general, my recommendation is to take preventative measures to reduce your pet’s exposure to biting and stinging insects so that less preventative medication is needed. Yet, our pets commonly spend time in locations frequented by other pets (dog park, daycare, grooming facilities, etc.) or in environments where ectoparasites thrive in the presence of wild animals (fields, woods, etc.).

Therefore, the need to prevent the attachment of or kill such parasites before they can transmit microorganisms or cause irritation with their bite or sting supersedes the ideal plan of using less frequent application of medication.

If you are going to use an ectoparasite-specific spray or bath treatment on your pet, make sure to consult with your veterinarian about the most appropriate product to use for your pet’s needs.  Additionally, always follow labeled and veterinary recommended safety guidelines to ensure that your pet does not suffer any side effects from the product’s use.


Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).

Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.

Copyright of this article (2013) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.

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