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Dog Parks And Parasites: Keeping Fido Safe At His Happy Place

Does your dog love going to dog parks? We suspect that, for many of you, the answer to that one is a yes. Unfortunately, as off-leash dog parks have become more popular, the risk of parasitic transmission has also increased. A recent study revealed some pretty sobering statics about the presence of these unwanted visitors in dog parks. A Marquette, MI vet breaks it down in this article.

The Study

This study was conducted by Elanco Animal Health, IDEXX Laboratories, and Oklahoma State University in the summer of 2019. Researchers tested 3006 pups in 288 parks, in over 30 metropolitan areas. About 90 percent of the pooches were over a year old. Most (85% of boy dogs and 90% of girls) had been fixed, and about 70% of them were on parasite control.

Intestinal Parasites

The study tested for several types of intestinal parasites. The most common types include Giardia, Ancylostoma caninum, and Trichuris vulpis. A whopping 85% of the sampled parks had at least one infected pooch. Overall, 20%—or one in five—dogs in attendance had gastrointestinal parasites. 42% of pups under a year old tested positive for nematodes or Giardia. Parasites were more common in younger dogs, but pups of all ages tested positive. Unsurprisingly, there were much lower rates of infestation among the pups that were on parasite prevention.

Almost half of the parks were positive for hookworms, whipworms, or roundworms. (9 percent had nematodes, while 7% had hookworm. About 2% had whipworm, and less than 1% had ascarids.) There were some regional variations: Hookworms, for example, were more common in the South and Midwest, while Giardia was, unfortunately, pretty much everywhere.

The Dangers

Heartworms are a definite risk at dog parks. The worms aren’t transmitted directly from pup to pup. Instead, they’ve enlisted everyone’s favorite insect, the mosquito, to transmit their larvae from dog to dog, via infected blood. While dogs can get infected anywhere there are mosquitos, dog parks are a hot spot. This is a very serious concern, as heartworm infestations can be fatal. Gastrointestinal parasites are also very dangerous to Fido. Hookworms can cause blood loss and diarrhea, while whipworms cause serious electrolyte imbalances.

Keeping Fido Safe

Does this mean you shouldn’t take Fido to a park? Not at all. Dogs love—and benefit from—the freedom to run around off-leash. It’s also good for them to play and interact with other pups. However, it’s absolutely crucial for you to keep up with your pet’s parasite control regimen. If your pooch is behind, don’t hit the park until he’s current. If your furry pal has tested positive, it’s also best to keep him home, to prevent spreading parasites. It’s worth noting that, in guidance with the recommendations set forth by AAHA, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (capcvet.org), and the CDC, we advise testing Fido for parasites at least once a year. It’s also important to manage your pup’s waste carefully. Always pick up after your pet! Ask your vet for specific advice.

Do you have questions about your dog’s parasite control products? Contact Animal Medical Center, your Marquette, MI vet clinic, today!

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