Dogs like Caesar, above, should be vaccinated before going to a dog park. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Dogs like Caesar, above, should be vaccinated before going to a dog park. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – Earlier this fall Van Wert saw the opening of the dog park. While the park will serve as a great place to socialize and exercise dogs, it is important that owners are aware of the risks that come with taking dogs to areas where many other dogs have been and are.

Dr. Tom Wilkin of the Van Wert Animal Clinic, located on Lincoln Highway, noted that dogs who visit a dog park, or that are around other dogs, have increased risk of contracting viruses such as Distemper, Parvovirus (Parvo), and Leptosirosis (Lepto).

He explained that contracting the viruses are as simple as a dog sniffing the area where another dog urinated or left a stool sample.

Wilkin noted that the virus that veterinarians see the most is Parvo. Parvo is a contagious virus that is shed in the stool. The virus can remain active for a year or more despite the weather.

“Even after stool might be picked up or after it rains, the virus is still in the environment,” said Wilkin. “A dog doesn’t have to meet another dog nose to nose, all it has to do is sniff where that dog went to the bathroom, months, if not a year ago.”

If a dog picks up the virus they will usually show sings of gastrointestinal tract infection which will cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. The virus can also be damaging to the heart, and in the worst cases, the virus can enter the bone marrow and damage that. If caught early on, there is a 95 percent success rate of treating the dog.

The second most common viruses Wilkin noted vets often see is Distemper and Leptosirosis.

Distemper is an incurable and an often fatal viral disease of the lungs, intestines, and brain. Once a dog is infected with Distemper, their chance of survival is slim. Wilkin noted that he does not usually see many cases of Distemper a year.

While Parvo and Distemper are shed in the dog’s stool, Lepto is shed in the urine. Lepto affects the liver or kidneys and is often treatable.

To protect against Parvo, Lepto, and Distemper, veterinarians give dogs vaccinations. The first three rounds are often given to puppies starting at eight weeks old, then again at 12 weeks old, and finally at 16 weeks old.

“Those three main core vaccines – we call those core because we feel every dog should have them – will help,” said Wilkin.

After the three initial “puppy vaccinations,” the location in which a person lives and the veterinarian in which they visit may have different guidelines for how often dogs should receive vaccinations. At the Van Wert Animal Clinic dogs receive Distemer and Parvo every 2 years and Lepto annually.

While many people may worry about their dogs getting kennel cough or canine influenza, Wilkin sated that those illnesses do not pose as great of a risk in an outside, open area.

“They are airborne and less likely to be in an outside dog park,” said Wilkin who added that those illnesses are more common in enclosed areas.

Other risks that pet owners should be aware of are intestinal parasites which are shed in the stool. Some common intestinal parasites include round worms, hook worms, and even microscopic parasites.

“Some of those are what we call zoonotic diseases,” said Wilkin. “That means that those parasites can be transferred from the pet to the person.”

Pets can be checked with a stool sample for intestinal parasites. There is also a prevention method which comes in a pill form and prevents intestinal parasites as well as heart worm.

The final thing that Wilkin suggests pet owners be aware of when taking their dog to a dog park is other dogs.

Wilkin suggests that pet owners watch the body language of, not just their own dog, but other dogs as well to see how they socialize.

“Are they both happy and saying, ‘Nice to meet you,’ or is one of them saying, ‘I don’t like this; I don’t like you,’” said Wilkin. “You can stand back and watch that and be aware to make sure your dog is safe with another dog and that they aren’t going to be aggressive.”

Wilkin also recommended in every situation that people ask the owner before petting a strange dog.

“Everybody should ask, ‘May I pet your dog?’” said Wilkin. “You should always, always ask permission.”