Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
So, this week we are continuing on the “things to think about before the dog park” theme. Last week, I went over why it is still important to have well-socialized dogs with manners before throwing them into the busiest time at dog parks. Another thing to think about is health, and why it is important as a group to make sure that our dogs are healthy before exposing many others to them.
Just like children should be vaccinated before going to school, dogs should be vaccinated for contagious diseases before going to the park. This includes the distemper complex (distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus), kennel cough and rabies. We currently do not have an issue with canine influenza in this region, but with travel and an influx of hurricane dogs from areas that were affected, this should be on your radar for the future. All components of the distemper vaccine are contagious between dogs. Rabies is important for many reasons, but the top reason being the law. Kennel cough is extremely contagious, and can be contracted even with vaccines. Dogs who are vaccinated typically get only one component, and are able to recover more quickly.
Dog parks are areas more prone to dog bites than elsewhere. This is due to the high concentration of dogs, the high level of excitement, and the likelihood that owners will get into the middle of altercations. Taking your dog to a dog park without up-to-date vaccines is negligent on the part of the owner and increases the chances of spreading illness.
Lyme disease is not able to spread between dogs, and must have an intermediate tick host. Leptospirosis can be excreted in the urine of affected dogs and spread this way, though it is less contagious in a general sense than the other diseases.
Anyone with children, teachers, all school workers and most of the rest of us know that the incidence of colds/flus jumps up when kids start school. Just like there are unaffected carriers and sick carriers, when you put a large group of anything together you are more likely to find some illnesses. Decrease the chances that your dog will get sick or spread disease by keeping them up to date on vaccines.
Ticks are not as easily spread between dogs, but fleas live for this type of environment. All a flea wants in life is a warm body with blood. If that warm body resides in a warm home, they have truly hit the jackpot. Flea control does require the flea to bite in order to die, so if your dog picks up four fleas from a friend and three hop off in your car and lay eggs before biting your dog, you are still in trouble. For this reason, you should certainly have your dog on prevention, but if you have noticed fleas on your dog and not yet addressed this with your veterinarian, you should not bring them to the dog park.
Many parasites are spread through fecal-oral contamination. This doesn’t mean your dog has to eat another’s poop in order to get them. They may sniff a pile of poop, or even the behind of a dog that has some eggs stuck to it. Then they trot off and lick their lips, thereby becoming contaminated.
The ease of internal parasite spread (and the ease of spread then to children) is part of why I beg everyone to pick up their dog poop. Getting worms doesn’t mean your dog is some sort of pariah, but it does mean that others can pick up worms from them. Monthly heartworm pills kill most worms once monthly, but, especially in the winter when people take a break from giving this preventative, we can get into more trouble.
There is no doubt that while dog parks are a wonderful resource, they also require owners to take some responsibility. It is always important to stay on top of your dog’s health, but becomes important to more of the community when they will be in contact with others. Please make sure your dogs are up to date on all of their veterinary (and social) needs before sending them off to interact with tons of other dogs. Once they are updated, let the playing begin!