The Good News: It's Spring! The Bad: Seasonal Hazards Abound for Outdoor Cats
Just about everyone I know, with the exception of a few snow-starved Tahoe aficionados, is welcoming the arrival of spring. True, this year's winter was a pretty mild (or, for skiers, lame) one in most parts of the U.S. Nonetheless, most of us are glad to see longer, warmer days with the promise of summer just around the corner.
Pets clearly enjoy spring as well, but the season's joys carry certain hazards. Happily, the hazards are easily avoidable with minimal effort, so spring needn't be an especially dangerous time for cats.
First and foremost: Spring means fewer days of an angry sky spitting down rain and snow. Everyone, including cats, wants to spend more time outside on nicer days. I have said before that cats in the outdoors are like drunken sailors carousing in a seedy portside red light district. They think they're having fun -- and maybe they actually are. They (or in the case of cats, their owners) may even think it's the only way to live life to the fullest. But no good comes of it. Many cats look for trouble outdoors, and most of the rest find trouble whether they're looking or not. Fights are rampant, and diseases are spread.
As the sun grows warmer and the grass grows greener, you may be tempted to let your cat frolic in the yard. Don't do it. Even if you don't intend to allow your cat outside, your cat might start to make a concerted effort to escape. Be careful as you open doors to keep Fluffy from making a break for it.
Speaking of grass, foxtail season has now begun. Foxtails are the sharp seeded fragments of tall grass that stick in your socks -- or your cat's eye, ear, or skin -- and they grow right at feline eye level. Imagine the distress you would suffer with a sharp foxtail in your eye and no opposable thumb with which to remove it! Fortunately, cats that don't go outside almost never suffer from foxtails.
Nesting birds are common in March and April, and baby birds and other vulnerable wildlife are attractive to cats. They also are dangerous -- a cat who falls from a tree after trying to clean out a nest can suffer serious injury, even if it lands on its feet. Even if your cat comes to no harm, there is no doubt that wildlife-killing cats are not cool. Remember as well that cats are not merely predators -- they also can be prey. Coyotes, hawks, and even raccoons all may kill cats, and they all become more active and aggressive during the spring, since many have young to feed.
It's not just birds that hatch as the weather grows warmer. Fleas proliferate and become more active. These ultimate pests cause skin disease, exacerbate immune problems, spread tapeworms, and may even contribute to feline asthma. They also will poop all over your house, and if your cat is like most cats, especially your bed and pillow. If your cat isn't already on a good flea preventative, now is the time to start one.
It's also time to talk to your vet about heartworm prevention, if your cat's has lapsed. The mosquitoes that carry this dangerous blood parasite will become increasingly active as the year goes on.
Finally, springtime holidays carry risks for cats. Easter lilies, when eaten, can cause fatal kidney failure. Easter grass can lead to life-threatening gastrointestinal obstruction from a syndrome known as linear foreign body. Cats residing in Jewish households also are at risk: If cats are anything like me as a child, the ones that attend Passover Seders are at risk of death by boredom and starvation before the meal is served.
Photo credits: Red cat in tree by Shutterstock.com