Rover and friends romping at the dog park, enlivened by meeting new guests, all the dogs are running and playing.
Such an idyllic mental picture, however, the cost of that play time may be higher than you ever dreamed possible.
Hopefully owners are cleaning up at least some of the bodily waste left behind after the party is over. Still, what remains behind can make your dog ill and your pocketbook thin.
Case in point, The Animal Foundation of Great Falls (Montana) opened a dog park and within a very short time owners were complaining that several dogs caught kennel cough after only a single visit. The owners reported to me they were very certain it came from the Dog Park as their dogs had not been commercially kenneled or interacted with other dogs anywhere else. In fact, it was so that the dogs could interact with other dogs that these owners took them to the dog park. That single decision cost quite a bit of money.
In the case of the diseases listed below, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) states that “clothing, equipment, surfaces and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs exhibiting signs of…disease…”
Now we all know that’s not going to occur at dog parks. There is no Sanitation Gnome running around cleaning. No owners are carrying bottles of bleach, nor is there a way to disinfect the grass, fencing, communal watering hole, benches, and humans.
Here are some diseases you might find at your local dog park:
Canine Distemper It’s a highly contagious and serious virus which attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system of puppies and unvaccinated adult dogs. According to the AVMA, “Vaccination and avoiding contact with infected animals are key elements of canine distemper prevention.”
Canine Flu / Dog Flu (influenza) A relatively new virus that most dogs do not have immunity against. While a vaccine is available, it’s not recommended for all dogs. The virus is spread via respiratory secretions, contaminated objects, including surfaces, bowls, collars, leashes, and toys. The virus is capable of surviving up to 48 hours on surfaces, 24 hours on clothing, and 12 hours on people’s hands. Dogs are most contagious during the 2 to 4 day incubation period, at which time they show NO signs of the virus. Regardless of breed or age, all dogs are at risk to this virus, it is estimated that 80% of all exposed dogs catch this flu, with a death rate of between 1-5% (+/-).
Parvo This is a very contagious virus, though there is a core vaccination for it, and most dogs receive it as a matter of course. However, it’s spread via direct contact with contaminated feces, surfaces, bowls, collars, leashes, equipment, clothing, and people. It’s known to survive in soil for years. Even with vaccination, some dogs never develop immunity and remain at-risk for contracting the infection.
Ticks, Fleas, & Mange These are everywhere and can be carried into the park by dogs, squirrels, even rabbits, to name a few. These little buggers transmit diseases, worms, and can be spread from dog to dog by direct contact. Even hitchhike home with you and settle in spreading the joy to other home-bound pets.
Fertilizers/Pesticides Some of these are toxic. You certainly don’t want your dog to come into contact with them, however, if the dog park is green and pretty, ask yourself what has been done to the grass to make it so beautiful. I doubt that whoever is in charge of the grass and park will post a sign of closure and your dog is at great risk.
Intestinal Parasites These would be hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, and whipworms, the eggs of which are passed in the feces and then contracted by a dog that licks/eats contaminated ground, licks contaminated paws, fur, water (feces in the mouth will be transported to water in the communal drinking “fountain”), or ingests fleas, lice, or contaminated rodents. There is also the possibility of your dog picking up, and ingesting via licking, Coccidia and Giardia.
Kennel Cough (Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex/CIRDC or “infectious tracheobronchitis”) Most commonly associated with, and found in commercial kennels and shelters, this is not a “simple” disease and is caused by a combination of bacteria and viruses and has an incubation period of 3-10 days, with post-recovery shedding period of 2 weeks (viral) up to 3 months (Bordetella). It’s highly contagious and the current vaccination may help reduce, even entirely prevent, kennel cough in the correct environment. The AMVA has this to say, “Survival of primary and secondary pathogens may be greatly enhanced by persistent moisture in the environment; therefore surfaces should be in good repair to prevent pooling of contaminated water, and cleaning should be followed by thorough drying on a daily basis. Kennel cough could spread to your other dogs. Vaccinated, healthy dogs in a home usually develop mild if any signs of kennel cough after exposure to a new dog, however in some cases serious illness may be transmitted. Always remember that vaccines do not completely protect a dog that is exposed to kennel cough.
Ringworm is due to fungal infection of the skin. It’s spread by contact with an infected dog or something that dog has come into contact with, and can survive in the soil, and may spread to humans.
Toxic Plants Here’s a nice compilation complete with gorgeous photos, courtesy of the ASPCA site, of the most frequently encountered plants with reported systemic effects on animals. Make sure these don’t show up in your local dog park.