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Dangers at the Dog Park

Posted by Jessica Gramlich on Dec 2, 2015 8:00:00 AM

VP-dogsDog parks are some of the happiest places on earth.  When I was in vet school, I didn’t have a yard and I loved taking my dog to an area where she could run off leash and socialize with other dogs.  It was a great stress reliever to sit there and watch all of the happy pups playing together.  

However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing.  Sometimes there were aggressive dogs or owners, little kids that didn’t know boundaries or sad pets that were left alone in the park like it was a doggie daycare.  

As a veterinarian I have been lucky to see very few emergencies from the dog park, but unfortunately there is a risk to letting your dog play with a lot other strange dogs.  Here are some dangers to warn your owners about regarding the dog park.

Infectious Diseases

Just like on a playground filled with small children, pets can carry and spread diseases to each other while gathering in a confined space.  It is extremely important to have a pet up to date on his vaccinations prior to going to the dog park.  Private parks that make owners provide proof of vaccination and negative fecal status are even better. Pets can pick up intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms at the dog park.  It’s recommended to pick up stools right away, not just because people don’t like stepping in dog doo, but because old poop is actually a public health hazard.  If stool is left out and the eggs are allowed to mature, then the stool becomes infectious.  If a dog steps on an egg and later licks his paws then he can become infected with intestinal parasites.

Dogs can also spread respiratory diseases to one another at the dog park.  Diseases like Kennel Cough and Influenza are easily transmitted from pet to pet.  Vaccination can help reduce the severity of disease but due to multiple strains vaccination may not always prevent all clinical signs in all patients.

External Parasites

There are lots of ways that you pet can pick up fleas and ticks but the dog park is a great place for these organisms to congregate and spread.  Unfortunately there are some owners who decline preventatives or choose to use products that have no proven efficacy.  This puts all the dogs at the dog park at risk.  Make sure your patients are up to date on preventatives and always encourage owners to do a tick check if you live in an endemic area.

Dog Fights

This can range from a little bit annoying to life threatening.  Some dogs are not well-suited for the dog park.  They don’t do well in group situations especially with strange dogs.  Unfortunately some owners are oblivious to their own dog’s shortcomings and the attraction of exercising their dog in a group setting blinds their judgment.  It can be a tricky situation to approach an owner about their dog’s inappropriate behavior.  Even scarier is the attack that no one sees coming.  Big dog little dog (BDLD) is a common ER abbreviation that can have heartbreaking results.  Encourage your owners to be honest about their own dog’s personality as well as the culture of the local park.  If there is a separate park for little dogs, then use the appropriate sized enclosure.

An extremely worrisome event at the dog park is a dog biting a human.  Owners get in to trouble when they try to break up dog fights.  And even more scary is when little kids are brought to the dog park.  Some dogs are not good with kids and a small child running around can be an overwhelming temptation leading to an unintentional bite. 

There doesn’t have to be blood for it to be a bad experience.  I discourage owners from bringing their young puppies or extremely anxious dogs to the dog park.  It is important to provide your impressionable puppy with positive social experiences and you just can’t guarantee that at the dog park.  An aggressive situation at the dog park can set your puppy up for a lifetime of inappropriate fearful or aggressive social behavior.    

Overall I love the dog park.  It is a great opportunity to socialize and exercise a dog, but it is not a place to veg out and catch up on Facebook.  It is important to stay alert and watch your dog closely.  Encourage your owners to be responsible and pick up after the pet, have it up to date on vaccines and try to stop bad behavior before it starts.

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Topics: ticks, Behavior, Safety

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