Tips to keep dog park visits safe, healthy for dogs and dog owners

Published on May 20, 2013 at 1:42 AM · No Comments

Dog parks are a great place to socialize dogs and let them play, but they also have some hidden dangers, according to a Kansas State University veterinarian.

Susan Nelson, clinical associate professor the university's Veterinary Health Center, has some tips to keep visits to dog parks safe and healthy for dogs and dog owners.

Before visiting a dog park, Nelson said it's important that your dog is current on its vaccinations. Puppies should be fully vaccinated first before allowing a visit.

Many viruses and parasites that affect dogs and humans can be picked up at dog parks or other outdoor venues, according to Nelson. These diseases can be found in the soil, water and even the air.

"Many of these serious diseases can be fatal, even with treatment," Nelson said. "But good vaccines are available to prevent them. Owners should talk to their vet to make sure that their dogs are up to date with any other vaccinations that may be needed, especially for canines that will frequent dog parks."

Among the diseases your dog should be vaccinated against include parvovirus, canine distemper, rabies and various respiratory diseases.

Some diseases that affect dogs, such as rabies, can be transmitted to humans. Another such disease is leptospirosis. Nelson said this bacteria lives in standing water -- including ponds -- and is passed through urine of infected animals. If a dog becomes infected, it can lead to liver failure, kidney failure and even death.

Respiratory diseases also can be a problem. These airborne diseases can be passed easily when a large number of dogs are in close proximity. Nelson said the layman's term for this is kennel cough, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses or both.

"Sometimes this illness can go away on its own and can be treated such as a human cold," she said. "But some dogs may need a course of antibiotics. These diseases also can be more serious and lead to pneumonia, so talk to your veterinarian if you feel your dog may have a respiratory illness."

Warmer weather means fleas and ticks are on the rise, so Nelson said both dogs and dog owners should have protection against these parasites before heading outside.

Keeping your dog hydrated is important in warmer weather, but letting your dog use a communal water dish can be risky.

"Communal water dishes can be a breeding ground for bacteria and giardia, an intestinal parasite," Nelson said. "It can live in a wet or damp environment for long periods of time. If a dog catches this parasite, it then multiplies to the point where it infiltrates the lining of a dog's intestines and blocks normal digestion and absorption of nutrients."

Giardia can cause diarrhea, which contains infective cysts that can be passed to other dogs.

"To be safe, owners should simply bring their own water bowl," Nelson said.

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