Many people enjoy taking their dogs to the dog park, and I’m commonly asked if, from a canine contagious disease point of view, the dog park is a safe place for dogs to be. Here is the advice I give:
1. Be sure your dog has ample immunity (vaccine protection) against distemper and parvovirus, both of which are life threatening diseases readily transmissible from dog to dog. This can be accomplished by vaccinating at appropriate intervals (more than once every three years for adult dogs is too much) or by regularly performing blood testing (vaccine serology) to ensure adequate protection. Read the chapter in Speaking for Spot called “The Vaccination Conundrum” for a complete discussion on vaccination timing, the risks and benefits of vaccinations, and vaccine serology.
2. Consider the potential risks and benefits of vaccinating your dog for Bordatella (this is often referred to as the “kennel cough” vaccine). Kennel cough refers to treatable upper respiratory tract infections that primarily cause coughing, the kind that, left untreated, have the potential to keep you and your dog awake all night! Because kennel cough is highly contagious, some dog parks may require that dogs be vaccinated for Bordatella before participating (oy, I can only imagine the nightmare monitoring this would be). Unfortunately, the Bordatella vaccination is not a 100% insurance policy that your dog won’t get kennel cough because Bordatella is only one of several microorganisms capable of causing kennel cough. Treatment for kennel cough typically consists of antibiotics and cough suppressant medication.
3. Intestinal parasites are readily transmitted between dogs, particularly in high-traffic dog park. If you frequent the dog park, have your dog’s stool sample checked regularly for parasites. Ask your veterinarian for his or her recommendation regarding frequency of testing as the prevalence of parasites varies from region to region.
4. Heartworm disease (long, spaghetti-like worms that set up housekeeping within the heart) is transmitted from dog to dog via mosquitoes. Talk with your veterinarian to learn whether or not heartworm disease exists in your area. If so, be sure your dog regularly receives heartworm preventive (whether you frequent the dog park or not).
5. Fleas are always on the lookout for their next meal, so you may find that your flea-free pooch arrives home from the dog park riddled with fleas. Discuss options with your vet so you can choose the flea control options that you are most comfortable with.
It’s a good idea for every dog park organization to keep an updated telephone/email list in order to broadcast “contagious disease sightings,” the same way parents receive notification from their children’s school about health issues such as head lice. Bear in mind that, while contagious diseases at the dog park do exist, risks of physical injury associated with canine altercations, and risks of emotional injury associated with human altercations are far greater. Hmm, perhaps we should begin requiring rabies vaccinations at both ends of the leash!
Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.
Tags: Bordatella, Canine distemper, Canine parvovirus, Contagious diseases, Distemper, Dog park, Flea Control, fleas, Heartworm disease, Heartworm prevention, Intestinal parasites, Kennel cough, Overvaccinating, Parvovirus, The Vaccination Conundrum, Vaccinations