SATURDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- Many viruses and parasites that affect both dogs and humans, such as rabies and leptospirosis -- a bacteria-borne illness than can result in liver or kidney failure -- may be lurking at dog parks, according to a veterinarian.
These germs could be found in the soil, water and even the air, said Dr. Susan Nelson, a clinical associate professor at Kansas State University's Veterinary Health Center. "Many of these serious diseases can be fatal, even with treatment," she said in a university news release.
Although dog parks provide four-legged friends with a place to socialize and play, Nelson cautioned that all dogs must be fully vaccinated before visiting one. "They're great places to let dogs stretch their legs, burn off some energy and have some fun," she said. "Owners should talk to their vet to make sure their dogs are up to date with any other vaccinations that may be needed, especially for canines that will frequent dog parks."
When a large number of dogs are in close proximity, respiratory disease caused by bacteria, known as kennel cough, also may be worrisome.
"Sometimes this illness can go away on its own and can be treated [like] a human cold," Nelson said. "But some dogs may need a course of antibiotics. These diseases also can be more serious and lead to pneumonia, so talk to your veterinarian if you feel your dog may have a respiratory illness."
Other precautions people can take before going to a dog park include:
- Protect yourself and your dog against fleas and ticks before heading outside.
- Bring a water bowl to make sure your dog is well hydrated. However, dogs should not use a communal water dish. "Communal water dishes can be a breeding ground for bacteria and giardia, an intestinal parasite," Nelson said. "If a dog catches this parasite, it then multiplies to the point where it infiltrates the lining of a dog's intestines and blocks normal digestion and absorption of nutrients."
- Use heartworm preventives to protect your dog against other intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms. Nelson said it's also a good idea to have your dog's stool routinely checked by a veterinarian for intestinal parasites.
- Pay attention to what your dog is doing at the dog park. Big dogs can seriously injure or even kill little dogs during a dogfight. "If your pet is not socialized for this type of interactive play, then fights are likely to occur," Nelson said. "Owners need to keep in mind that dogs off their leash may run up to your dog. This unwanted attention by another dog could lead to an altercation."
- Pick up after your dog.
- Practice good hygiene. "When bringing kids with you to dog parks, do not let them run around barefoot," Nelson said. "There is a higher parasitic egg count in the soil, many of which can cause disease in humans. Do not place babies or toddlers on the ground or let them play in the dirt. Good hygienic practices such as washing hands after playing with the dogs and when leaving the park are always a good idea. Also keep a bottle of antibacterial solution with you."
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has more about dog parks.