Devoted to More Wags and Purrs.
Bring Shoes, Baggies and Common Sense When Visiting Dog Parks

Pinellas county has been fortunate to have so many dog parks and pet friendly areas built in recent years. Many county parks now have fenced in areas set aside for our four legged friends to roam and romp off-leash, and there are even a dog-friendly beach in Fort DeSoto park. These parks are great places for dogs and their owners to be able to play and interact with other people and pets. With such freedom does come responsibility, and caution must also be taken.

While many dogs enjoy romping and playing with other dogs, some do not. Some are too scared to interact, and others may be too focused on being the “top dog” to have fun. Unfortunately, some owners also do not seem to understand that their pet is not “having fun,” but rather acting tense, anxious, or aggressive. One of the responsibilities of attending a dog park is knowing when to leave. Even though the owner of an aggressive dog may swear that he is “just playing,” if a dog does not seem friendly,  do the responsible thing and leave, and try again another day.

Parasites are a significant problem anywhere pets congregate. While heartworm preventions and flea control can prevent many such parasitic problems, not all pet owners are as conscientious about using such products. Hookworms, roundworms and whipworms lay microscopic eggs, which then contaminate the soil through feces.  Because the eggs are microscopic, many people won’t realize that their pets are affected by parasites, and inadvertently spread the eggs wherever their dog defecates. These worms, in large numbers, can cause severe intestinal problems in dogs, and enough blood loss to cause death. Additionally, hookworms and roundworms are zoonotic, which means they have the ability to cause disease in people.  Hookworms can penetrate the skin of people, and crawl beneath causing severe skin disease, and potential organ damage. Roundworms may do the same, and can migrate to the internal organs or even the eyes in children, causing blindness and severe illness. Because of this, one should always wear shoes in a dog park, wash your hands afterward, and consistently use a monthly heartworm preventative that helps prevent infection with these terrible parasites.

Viruses, such as parvovirus and distemper, will be more prevalent wherever dogs congregate, so adequate vaccines are vital. Both of these diseases are prevalent in our community, and can lead to severe illness and often death. Other less severe respiratory viruses may be spread as well. If you see a pet in the dog park with coughing, sneezing, diarrhea or vomiting, it may be wise to tell the owner to visit their veterinarian, and then politely leave before your pet catches it as well.

Simply expect fleas and ticks, and protect your dog before they occur. These parks occur in “wild” areas where fleas already exist, and the influx of dogs makes the matters worse. Be very careful not to bring live fleas home, as one female flea can lay 2000 eggs and quickly infest your entire house.

Lastly, be a good pet owner. If you dog is sick, skip the park. Pick up after your dog, and don’t just ignore the “present” he left behind. If your pet seems nervous or unfriendly, do not wait for something bad to happen, excuse yourself and try another day, or play at home.

Dog parks can be great fun, as long as a few precautions are taken. We are fortunate to have such a dog-friendly community in this county.
Dr. Michael Rumore