Despite the risks, dog parks are generally safe, and are great places for your dog to run, play and interact with other dogs – all important for your pet’s enrichment and behaviour. Read on for some of the more common health hazards you may encounter at the dog park, but don’t be put off. By being aware of the dangers and recognising when to go to the vet, you can keep your dog safe and happy.
Avoiding doggy health dangers is often down to education so, for more information on the dog park diseases in your area, it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian. And be sure to contact your vet immediately if you notice any changes in your pup’s health.
Most pooches love a trip to the park, as do their owners – it’s an opportunity for everyone to socialise and exercise. However, there’s also potential for your dog to contract various viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Did you know?
Avoiding doggy health dangers is often down to education
First let's look at parasites.
Believe it or not, grass and other outdoor spaces are often great areas for fleas to hide out. Keep your dog up to date with flea treatments to avoid them picking up passengers at the dog park.
Many internal parasites can be picked up by wandering through a park – either on the pads of a dog’s feet, or through licking, as dogs are prone to do. Some worms can be transferred to humans, so a regular deworming programme is essential. For most dogs, a complete deworming tablet given once every three months will keep them covered. You can read more about worms here.
Some areas are full of ticks, which find our pets (and us!) rather tasty. Many flea treatments include protection against ticks, so if there are ticks in your area, be sure that your pet is protected.
But what about vaccinations?
The normal vaccination protocol recommended by vets will provide cover against the following three diseases, as well as several others. Speak to your vet for more information about vaccine-preventable diseases. Young pups that have not completed their vaccination course should not be taken to the dog park.
This disease is highly contagious, and is spread by coughing or by dogs coming into contact with an area where an infectious dog has recently been (and likely coughed). While the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective it will, in many instances, prevent them from catching kennel cough, and vaccinated dogs that are unlucky enough to catch it have a shorter and easier dose of the disease. Once your pet gets it, there is no treatment except rest, staying at home (to avoid infecting other dogs), and anti-tussives (cough suppressants prescribed by the vet) if needed.
Following on from the puppy course and first annual booster, this vaccination must be re-administered every three years, to make sure all dogs are protected. Most people are aware of how nasty parvovirus is in unvaccinated puppies, but many don’t realise it’s still serious in adult dogs. While it is unlikely to cause death, dogs can become very unwell and have severe diarrhoea. You can read more about parvovirus here.
This serious disease is spread by dogs that come into contact with rat urine. Dogs that like catching rats, swimming in waterways where rats are likely to be, or those that live out in rural areas are most likely to have contact with this disease. An annual vaccination offers good protection against leptospirosis. As this disease can easily be transferred to humans, it’s an important one to be aware of.
This groundcover is ubiquitous in parks, and is a regular culprit behind skin irritations, redness, and occasionally blisters or pustules seen on the exposed skin of our furry friends. Most dogs are sensitive to this plant – if your dog is one of them, be sure to bathe it after going through areas where you know the plant is growing. Washing quickly after contact can minimise or prevent symptoms.
Rat and Pest Baits
Many parks, off-lead dog parks included, have some sort of pest control system in place – often these take the form of bait stations containing rat poisons. Read the signs in your park, and keep an eye on your dog at all times. Should your dog eat a dead rodent or anything from a bait station, take it to the vet immediately. If it is made to vomit within two hours, there may not be any lasting effects. If your dog ingests a large dose, or can’t be made to vomit within two hours, it will usually end up with the poison on board. Luckily, this is treatable – though quite expensive.
Symptoms often manifest themselves a week or two later and can be quite varied, but essentially your dog’s blood won’t be able to clot due to a deficiency in vitamin K caused by the poison. They can then start to bleed anywhere within their body (hence the variation in symptoms), and if it’s not picked up, they can die. Treatment involves two to six weeks of vitamin K therapy, depending on the type and generation of poison eaten.
These are seasonal, and berries ripen and drop to the ground from January to April. The berries contain the toxic alkaloid karakin, which is a potent neurotoxin. If you know your dog has eaten karaka berries, get to your vet immediately. Even with the best and most prompt veterinary care, these berries are often fatal.
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