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Dog Park Diseases

January 27th, 2010

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.

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  1. From Jason, January 31, 2010:

    I’ve only ever taken my dog to one dog park in my life, but it never even crossed my mind to think of disease transmission. In my limited knowledge of dog parks, I have yet to see one that looked inviting in the first place, let alone clean. Usually the ones I’ve seen were just a chain linked fence around a small area with no grass or shrubbery or trees whatsoever. I prefer to take my dog for a walk in a park on walking trails where there’s still opportunity to meet other dogs/people but not so closed up like a dog park.

  2. From Cindy, Newton, Levi, Nitro, Milo Shipe, February 4, 2010:

    Oh how right you are Susan. I’m firmly against dog parks. I’ve seen plenty around here and there are more daily. These are being used by lazy people. They don’t have a fence at home, so they go to the park in order to “run off excess energy” in their dogs. Instead of working the dogs mind, instead of walking on a path, sidewalk, or elsewhere, they “dump” the dogs at the park. I’ve seen too many dogs get attacked at these places, or pick up diseases. Too many owners don’t pay attention to what their dog is doing. Too many dogs have been sequestered in the house and when they get out in public have no clue how to behave. No one checks to see if these dogs have had any shots. All I can see comming from having these parks is that fewer dogs are running loose in the neighborhoods. People need to be held responsible. Be a good owner. Train your dog to behave, walk and exercise your dog, take responsibility for keeping your dog happy & healthy or DON’T GET A DOG!

  3. From Fatimah Dutrow, February 12, 2010:

    Animal mistreatment has constantly got to me. It seems like it is becoming worse, at least where I live. But there are still good souls out there who feel like I do that we must take care of them. I hope the judicial system will match up with our way of thinking about this. It is still treated as a comparatively insignificant criminal offence. That’s wrong.

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  35. From John, July 29, 2011:

    hmm.. too many dog diseases out there!

  36. From wolfcat87, April 4, 2013:

    Hmmm, this neglects to mention that all of these can be an issue anywhere. All the more reason to vaccinate and be vigilant. My dogs visit dog parks, Petco, the neighborhood, human parks, etc. We’ve been visiting the dog park since my 3 dogs were just puppies. Over 2 years. We’ve visited as often as 4 times a weeks for 1-2 hours at a time. They’ve never caught anything. On the other hand, they get plenty of exercise and are better behaved, better socialized, and happier because of it.

  37. From wolfcat87, April 4, 2013:

    I might mention that I’ve also taken rescue dogs regularly, in the past, and my mother’s dog to the dog park as well. <3

  38. From Susan Overfield, April 5, 2013:

    Kyrie (wolfcat87) — This entry was a fact-based entry, it was not subjective. Dog parks are at higher risk for disease transmission as there is no way to sanitize the area. I realize you’re a great supporter of the Animal Foundation and the park. It is your prerogative. As for “better behaved, socialized, and happier,” as I haven’t seen your danes that is something I cannot comment upon.

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