Jessi Pizzuli, DVM, Owner/Veterinarian, Just Cats Hospital, contributed to this blog.
Off-leash dog parks can seem like a sanctuary for pet parents and canine companions, especially as we emerge from pandemic restrictions. These fenced-in outdoor areas are places for dogs and humans to socialize, exercise, and play with other canines. For some dogs and people, a visit to the dog park can be an important reset to start or finish a busy day.But taking your dog for a romp at a dog park does involve some risks, including contracting diseases or parasites and encountering aggressive dogs. It can be especially risky for puppies that aren’t fully vaccinated and don’t yet know the rules of interacting with strange dogs.
If an off-leash run is part of your pet’s routine, or if you are wondering whether to visit a dog park in your neighborhood, here are some important things to keep in mind.
If you do decide to visit the dog park, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) has some recommendations for keeping you and your pet safe. Some risks are unavoidable, but with awareness and good veterinary care, you and your dog can enjoy some outings in your local dog park.
A good dog trainer can help you learn to read your dog’s signals. Learning to read and react to dogs’ gestures can prevent aggression and injuries. Watch for signals like hair raising and upright tails, facial expressions, and vocalizations to tune in to a dog’s stress level. Some dog parks have handy guides posted to let you know what to watch out for.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has compiled a list of the most common diseases that can spread among dogs in any social, outdoor setting. There are several infectious diseases that can be transmitted by viruses, fungi, parasites, and bacteria in a dog park or other outdoor setting. Your veterinarian will know more about these diseases. All you need to know is that you can avoid or prevent these diseases by following your veterinarian’s recommendations.
Ticks deserve a special mention because they are an unfortunate risk that can be managed when you find one on your dog. These parasitic pests can frequent dog parks and natural areas. Keeping your dog up to date on a flea and tick preventative is the best way to avoid these pests causing or transmitting disease to you or your pets. After a trip outside, check your pet for ticks by running your fingers through their entire body. Please don’t mistake their nipples for ticks (yes – male dogs have nipples). If one of the critters slips past your defenses, here’s what to do:
Puppies need socialization, and it’s tempting to want to bring the baby to the party happening at the dog park down the street. But puppies are vulnerable to certain diseases, including potentially fatal ones such as canine parvovirus and canine distemper virus. That’s why it’s important that your pup is de-wormed and vaccinated and socializes with other healthy dogs.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that puppies receive their last dose of parvovirus vaccine when they are between 14 and 16 weeks old, no matter how many doses they received previously.
You can’t know the health or vaccination status of all the dogs your pup encounters at the dog park, so it’s best to arrange playdates with fully vaccinated and de-wormed playmates or enroll in a puppy socialization class until your dog is fully vaccinated.