I want to talk to you about a very serious topic today: hidden dangers at the dog park. I was scrolling through all the dog news in my news reader and kept seeing the same topic popping up warning about the potential risks in the one place our pups are free to be, well, free! Dog parks are a great place to help your dog get more exercise, give him (and you!) much-needed social interaction and meet up with other dog lovers. As long as you follow the basic rules of dog park etiquette, you and your dog will have a great time…at least that’s the plan, right?
Sadly, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Dog parks, while fantastic for so many reasons, are also a breeding ground for certain illnesses. Even if your dog is vaccinated against these diseases, there are still other dangers at the dog park to watch out for. Let’s talk about a few of those and how we can avoid them!
Hidden Dangers at the Dog Park: How to Avoid Them
The hidden dangers at the dog park run the gamut from sprains and strains to deadly diseases. While some are easier to avoid- vaccinating your dog can do wonders to protect him- others require a little more attention from you.
In the human world, we tend to think of winter as the worst season for viruses and infections. For us, that’s mostly true. We spend a lot more time in closed areas with recirculated air, increases our risk of catching a bug. For dogs, though, many of the worst diseases and infections spike during the summer. It makes sense if you think about it: your dog is exposed to far more animal waste and disease carriers during the summer months. From rabies to parasites, the more you take your dog out, the better chance he has of coming into contact with them. Parvovirus is especially nasty in the summer.
The good news: vaccinated dogs are protected against the worst of the worst. Most states require pet owners to keep up to date with rabies vaccines. While other vaccines aren’t always mandatory, as long as you stick with your vets recommendations, you should be fine. Keep in mind that some areas are more prone to certain diseases than others. If your vet recommends a certain vaccine (like Lyme Disease), feel free to ask questions, but strongly consider listening to his recommendation.
Fleas and ticks
While fleas and ticks are a problem everywhere during the summer months, your dog has a higher chance of coming into contact with an unprotected dog at the park. Fleas can lead to irritated skin, and ticks can cause Lyme disease. I’ve dealt with both in my dogs. My Coop is allergic to flea bites, so I have to be very diligent all year round. You can help protect your dog by using a good preventative flea and tick medicine. GOOD being the important word there. A $5 box of flea medicine bought in a mass retailer most likely isn’t going to do the job. In fact, some of those medicines have been linked to major issues in dogs.
I was going to put these hidden dangers at the dog park under diseases, but they’re really a different thing entirely. Sure, you can prevent heartworm pretty easily, but other parasites still lurk out there. They usually hide in the feces of other animals. Think about it this way: a dog park is wide open, aside from one fence. You can’t really keep squirrels, mice, birds and other animals from hanging out there. One of the best ways to avoid parasites is to keep an eye on your dog and keep him from eating poop. Help prevent parasite infections in other dogs by cleaning up after Fido. It’s just common courtesy anyway, no one wants to run around a park filled with dog waste.
Heat stroke is nasty and can be fatal, but fortunately it is one of the most avoidable hidden dangers at the dog park. Dogs don’t sweat like we do, so they have a harder time cooling down their bodies in extremely hot weather. Some dogs with cute squishy little faces, like pugs and bulldogs, have an even harder time in the summer because they are already prone to respiratory issues. Overweight pups and dark colored dogs are also at a high risk (think about how hot you get when you wear a black shirt on a sunny day).
Avoiding heat stroke is so much easier than treating it. It’s as simple as keeping your dog home on sweltering days or planning your dog park outing for either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. When you are at the park, make sure you offer your dog plenty of fresh water (try not to let him drink out of puddles, ponds or standing water because parasites thrive in those places). Play in an area that offers plenty of shade for Fido to escape to if he’s feeling hot.
Injuries from rough play or fighting
Injuries include strains, sprains, and bites from other dogs. No matter how careful you are to keep your dog from getting into fights, they do occasionally happen. Sometimes, injuries can occur even when your dog is just playing around. Sprains and strains are a common hidden danger at the dog park. My lab/collie once sprained her ankle running around my back yard. Fortunately she healed quickly, although she milked it for a good few days when she figured out I’d pamper her!
While injuries like this are sometimes unavoidable, one way to keep your dog safe is to monitor his interactions with other dogs. If you see a fight brewing or notice he’s playing a bit rough with another dog, distract your pooch and move to another part of the park. Check out this post to learn the difference between playing and fighting, and how to deal with both.
One last word of advice on avoiding the hidden dangers at dog parks, then I’ll let you get back to having fun with Fido: these dangers don’t just apply to your dog. You can also be at risk for things like diseases from tick bites, injuries from playing with your pooch and heat stroke. Most dangers can be avoided by using common sense. Don’t pet strange dogs without the owner’s permission, don’t get in the middle of a dog fight and drink plenty of water while you’re at the park. When you get home, check both yourself and your dog for ticks. I can’t stress that enough. As someone who has dealt with Lyme disease in two dogs and seen my mom go through it, I am hyper-cautious about ticks now.
As long as you know what to look for and what to avoid, you and your pooch can have a fabulous time at the dog park! Honestly, common sense plays a massive role in keeping both you and Fido safe. As long as you have that (and I believe you do!), you should be able to avoid almost everything on this list.