Sunday, June 13, 2010

How Weather Affects Our Pets

By Ruthie Bently

I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life, and I’m used to seasons changing. Growing up in Illinois, we had four definite seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Since I’ve lived in Minnesota, several years it’s seemed as if we’ve only had two: winter and summer. On May 24 we broke a record that had stood since 1875. The high for the day had been 87 degrees; the new record is 95 degrees. While this is great for people who love warm weather, it is troubling to me. Normally our tick season is between May and August, but ticks appeared here in March due to the warm temperatures. We’re seeing a higher incidence of Lyme disease and the deer tick is no longer the only carrier. Due to the warmer weather there have been reports of the Lone Star tick (native to Texas) in Northern Iowa. The flea populations also get a head start during warmer weather, and though we’ve not been outside late at night, I saw mosquitoes early this year too.

We live in a rural community and don’t see air pollution too often, but during warmer weather sometimes there will be a haze in the sky when the air quality in the Twin Cities is bad and the wind is blowing from the north. Though Skye loves to play outside, I have to make sure she doesn’t play too much during the heat of the day. We try to go out during the early morning or late afternoon. Bad air quality affects our pets in much the same way it does us – they can become asthmatic and develop chronic respiratory problems.

Warm weather enables protozoa and bacteria to thrive, and each of these present problems to our pets. The earlier the warm weather, the more chance your pet could come in contact with one of these. A protozoan is a single celled parasite that lives in soil, water and the feces of an infected animal. There are several kinds that can affect a pet’s blood stream, circulatory system or digestive system, and if left untreated they can be fatal. A pet can become infected with Coccidiosis (Coccidia protozoan) after eating any infected rodent or other infected creature. It causes dehydration and severe cases can lead to death. Giardia can be found in stagnant or contaminated water, feces and soil, although most animals contract it through drinking water. It causes digestive problems in dogs, and they may have gas or diarrhea or show no signs at all.

A bacterium is a single-celled organism that when beneficial assists in decomposing organic material, breaks down food, and enables our pets to synthesize vitamins. Bacteria can also cause diseases, such as Lyme disease, leptospirosis and erlichiosis. My vet mentioned seeing a higher incidence of these due to the increased warmer weather of the past several years.

Lyme disease has been linked to several ticks and is no longer spread only by the deer tick. It’s caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is passed to a pet through a tick bite. Canine Ehrlichiosis is caused by the bacteria Ehrlichia canis and is a tick borne fever, but cannot be passed dog to dog, or dog to human. Leptospirosis is passed through the urine of both domestic and wild animals, and can be found in stagnant water. While it can affect dogs and humans, cats rarely show signs. As we move into areas that were once wild, our pets come into contact with carriers of these diseases more often.

One naturally occurring toxic danger to our pets is attributed to a specific family of blue-green algae named cyanobacteria. When it blooms it’s toxic to pets, livestock and humans. Cyanobacteria live in many aquatic environments year round. In bodies of water that are nutrient rich and shallow, during periods when sunny, sustained warm days occur, algae blooms. The toxin produced is one of the most powerful natural poisons. Most toxic algae blooms happen in late summer or early fall, but if conditions are favorable they can happen any time. The water may or may not have an odor and may not change color. Toxic algae blooms most often occur in fresh water, but can occur anywhere. A toxic algae bloom can affect a pet in as little as fifteen minutes after ingestion. If your pet comes in contact with a bloom, thoroughly wash your pet’s coat to prevent them from further harm while cleaning themselves. If you think your pet is ill from the bloom, contact your vet immediately.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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