Dog parks have become very popular amongst owners and their dogs. They can be a great place to take your animals to socialize, burn off some energy, and have some fun! However, in the veterinary world we do unfortunately deal with some negative situations as a result dog parks. As long as you practice safety and pay attention to your dog and their surroundings, you should have a fun, and safe experience.
One of the first things that we see frequently is Bordetella otherwise know as kennel cough. Bordetella is a contagious respiratory disease that is easily transmissible, it is an airborne organism which is what makes it so easy to transmit; much like our common cold. Some dogs that carry the disease are considered asymptomatic-meaning that they are infectious but not exhibiting any clinical signs or symptoms of this disease. The owners may not even know that they are inadvertently spreading a disease throughout the park. It is important to vaccinate your animal against this virus if you are going to a dog park, getting groomed, kenneled or using a doggie day care facility. Having this preventative vaccine is important to hopefully ward off any infection that may be transmitted amongst our four legged friends. (stay tuned for one of our next blogs that will be about kennel cough!)
Flea and tick prevention is a must if you are frequently visiting the dog park. You can never be positive that the dogs that are there aren't currently infested with fleas themselves. So, the easiest way for you to avoid this problem is to follow the proper flea and tick prevention protocol for the product that you are currently using. Gastrointestinal (GI) parasites can be a pesky parasite that can also be picked up at a dog park. There are many different kinds of parasites that can be transmitted through simple things such as drinking stagnant water from a puddle, licking their paw, or if you have one of those dogs who enjoys the tasty treat of feces. GI parasites can be harmful to your animals if not treated. You should run fecal samples on your dogs regularly. Every couple of months if you are a frequent flyer at the dog park or if you think that your animal is exhibiting any symptoms of a GI parasite.
Always bring your own water bowl at the dog park. Most parks will have a public fountain for dogs to drink from, it is not the best idea to allow them to share a bowl with other unknown dogs. Contaminated water is a good way to transmit a disease like kennel cough or possibly a papilloma virus. If you ever notice that your dog has small white bumps or warts on their gums you'll want to keep them away from the dog park for a few weeks until this has cleared up. If you ever had any concerns about these warts you'll want to contact your veterinarian to have them checked.
Lastly I would like to talk about what to do if you are caught in the unfortunate situation of a dog fight. Similar to being in a car accident and collecting the insurance information from the other driver, it is very important that you and the other owner exchange some information. It is vital to know who the regular veterinarian is and what their rabies vaccine status is. If you ever find that the animal that was just involved in this scuffle is overdue or not vaccinated for rabies it's important to contact the animal control for that particular town. Also, you should bring your animal to your veterinarian for a rabies booster immediately. It is always recommended to follow up with your veterinarian after a dog fight has occurred even if you can't necessarily see any wounds on your animal. Your safety is very important as well if you see a fight breaking out please try to separate them in a way where you will not be harmed.
I don't want to dissuade anyone from not going to a dog park that is not what this blog was about. I just wanted to inform everyone about the do's and don't of a dog park. They can and do provide a wonderful experience for dogs and owners but just like anything else proper precautions need to be made in order to have a fun and safe experience.