New Guidelines on Reducing the Risk of Disease Transmission in Large Dog Gatherings

September 21, 2016
Einav Keet

Dog shows—we love to watch them on television, seeing the best of each breed on full display in every size, coat, and shape, but are they safe?

Dog shows—we love to watch them on television, seeing the best of each breed on full display in every size, coat, and shape, but are they safe? Our own lovable mutts may sniff out new friends on walks around the neighborhood, but in certain group settings such as competitions, dog parks, and boarding facilities, contact with sometimes thousands of other pets can raise a dog’s risk for exposure to canine infectious diseases.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association looks at how to prevent or reduce the transmission of infectious diseases in large congregations of dogs. The authors, from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, as well Ontario Veterinary College in Canada, note that while we have set standards for disease prevention programs in human settings, limited standards, guidelines, recommendations, or regulations currently exist regarding infectious disease prevention for canine group settings. Even the American Kennel Club has limited standards, guidelines, recommendations, or regulations currently in place regarding infectious disease prevention at its dog shows. Privately owned dog parks and boarding facilities may have their own policies, though there is no national standard set of disease prevention and control recommendations.

In their paper, the authors represent various backgrounds of expertise on infectious diseases affecting dogs. They developed a list of common pathogens believed to be a concern for transmission in canine group settings, including tapeworm, sarcoptic mange, giardiasis, heartworm, mites, and salmonellosis, among others. The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that diseases can be spread from dog to dog through physical contact and bites, as well as through shared food and water bowls, brushes, collars, toys, and bedding. Humans who have come in contact with infected dogs may also expose healthy dogs to diseases.

This study focused on the potential for disease transmission at large dog gatherings such as competitions, shows, sporting events, off-leash dog parks, private kennels, dog daycare, and boarding facilities. After conducting a literature review on canine infectious pathogens and their clinical signs, transmission, and epidemiological characteristics, the researchers found 428 research articles to be used to inform their recommendations. These included literature reviews, case reports, outbreak reports, experimental studies, randomized and nonrandomized clinical trials, and more. The authors note though that limited surveillance and research efforts, in comparison to humans and farm animals, limit the detection or reporting of canine infectious disease outbreaks, and thus, the availability of evidence to support the recommendations.

Based on their research, the authors used a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach to develop a draft of evidence-based recommendations on disease prevention and control. Some of their general recommendations include: calling for an attending or consulting veterinarian in every group canine setting, working either on- or off-site to develop and implement protocols for infectious disease prevention, as well as training for all staff on those protocols. Disease prevention and control protocols should be developed on the basis of a risk assessment for the setting, taking into account the location and nature of the setting. Only dogs without clinical evidence of infectious disease should participate in group settings, and valid health certificates for dogs traveling to a group setting from out of the state, province, or country should be required for entry into that setting.

Although vaccinations only prevent or reduce a limited number of canine infectious diseases, the researchers recommend that dogs be up-to-date on vaccinations considered core for shelter populations; all dogs should be vaccinated for rabies. Dogs with unknown or not up-to-date vaccination status should receive, at minimum, a single dose of necessary vaccines, waiting a week to allow adequate time for the development of the immunity, prior to entering the group setting. Additional recommendations involving insect and wildlife control, vector-borne disease prevention, environmental disinfection, hygiene, and other measures were also included by the authors.

“Although difficult to quantify, the risks of infectious disease transmission in canine group settings are clearly evident and substantial. Dog-to-dog contact is likely, and severe consequences can ensue when dogs leaving these settings spread pathogens back into the community and potentially over large geographic areas,” the authors conclude. “Because risks vary within and between settings, it is important for people involved in canine group settings to adopt recommendations that are most in line with the risks specific to their setting and geographic location.”