The dog park days of summer


As the weather gets nicer, more dogs and their owners will head to dog parks for a dose of fresh air. But what are the risks?

National Report

-- Dog parks have sprouted up all across the country, and as the weather gets nicer, more dogs and their owners will head to those canine communities for a dose of fresh air. But what are the risks?

Veterinarians probably know the risks all too well, says Dr. Dara Johns of Parkway Animal Hospital in Niceville, Fla. But educating pet owners of those risks is the key.

“As animal lovers, we can clearly understand the importance of having an outing with out dog. But as animal doctors, we see inherent danger in every aspect of the dog park experience,” she says.

Viruses and parasites -- including those transmitted through feces Parvo virus, hookworms, roundworms, coccidian and giardia -- pose a great threat since not every dog owner cleans up after their pup at dog parks. But there also are air-borne concerns like distemper, kennel cough and canine influenza, she says. Leptospirosis will lurk in urine and is commonly found in wet areas, posing problems for dog parks with ponds or pools. The zoonotic nature of leptospirosis makes virus a double threat, Johns says.

But she lists the most inherent danger of dog parks as a behavioral one. She recently treated a small poodle attacked at a local dog park and says owners must be made to recognize that they must always be in control of their dog and be on guard for others owners who are not.

Melissa Bains, DVM, DACVB, believes veterinarians are too well-versed in the dangers lurking at dog parks and says too many advise their clients against visiting dog parks, in spite of many benefits it can give a vaccinated, well-behaved dog.

“A lot of veterinarians take it to an extreme,” she says.

Both Bains and Johns, despite knowing the risks, still advocate dog parks, but say veterinarians should provide information to clients. They could also use it as a marketing tool for their own practice.

Talk to clients about their dog park practices and make sure they get vaccinated against or treatments for all the viruses and parasites their dog may be exposed to. Advocate regular fecal screenings and groomings, as well, Johns says.

“Most clients think only of fleas and ticks. They do not consider the possibility of earmite infestation or sarcoptic mange,” she says. “Regular baths and flea treatments can keep these under control.”

Veterinarians may also find it beneficial to contact local dog park organizers and put together a fact sheet that can serve as a tool for their own clients, as well as draw new patients into their practice.

“Dog parks can be a vehicle for educating owners on issues pertinent to their well-being – microchipping, spay/neuter, vaccine clinics, etc. Perhaps a message board could be put up at your dog park,” Johns says.

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