By Dr. Becker
The number of dog parks across the U.S. has grown by 34 percent over the last five years, and pet owners are visiting them in ever increasing numbers.
Especially during the warmer months of the year, dog parks see a lot of action.
According to Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the following eight dog park-related injuries and illnesses were the most common in 2011:
- Sprains and soft tissue injuries
- Lacerations and bite wounds
- Kennel cough or upper respiratory infection
- Insect bites
- Head trauma
- Hyperthermia or heatstroke
- Parasite infection
The most expensive medical emergency on the list is heat stroke at almost $600 per pet.
The most common problem, sprains and soft tissue injuries, ran an average of about $200 per pet.
#1 Dog Park-Related Medical Condition: Sprains and Soft Tissue Injuries
Every spring and summer I see a number of patients with knee and soft tissue damage.
In my experience, these injuries are often the result of inactivity during the winter months, which causes the muscles of the body to lose tone and atrophy a bit. After just a matter of days of not being used, well-conditioned muscles begin to lose their tone and strength.
After four or five months of rest during cold weather, your dog’s muscles will weaken. This can set him up for an injury if his activity level suddenly jumps significantly during the first days of spring.
Before you set off for the dog park or allow your pet to exercise intensely -- perhaps for the first time in weeks or even months -- you need to work him back up to a reasonable level of fitness before he goes all out.
Warming your dog up before he exerts himself is also very important. Take him on walks and encourage him to stretch his limbs before you let him engage in more intense exercise.
Consistency is important. In order for your dog to remain in good physical condition, he should get some exercise every day to help the muscles and ligaments stay healthy and strong. This will help him avoid strains, sprains and other injuries during intense exercise.
Some good activities to keep your dog in shape include walking, hiking, jogging beside you, swimming, and fetching a ball or playing Frisbee.
If you live where winters are too cold or wet for regular outdoor exercise, consider hydrotherapy or a warm water dog pool, an indoor dog park (this is also a great idea for those of you who live in climates where the summers are too hot for strenuous outdoor exercise), indoor agility or tracking training, or cross-country skiing.
And of course there’s always the treadmill.
Keeping Your Pet Healthy and Safe at the Dog Park
Most of the illnesses and injuries on the list can be avoided by taking a few precautions – the first of which would be to review your dog park manners before your first visit.
Here are a few additional tips from VPI to help keep your dog park adventures this summer fun and safe:
- Obey all the posted rules and regulations at the park.
- Pay attention to your dog at all times, and remain aware of the other pets too.
- Don’t bring a puppy younger than 4 months to the park.
- Make sure your dog is immunized against disease and has a valid pet license.
- Keep a collar on your dog.
- On very warm days, avoid the park during peak temperature hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Look for signs of overheating, including profuse and rapid panting, a bright red tongue, thick drooling saliva and lack of coordination. If this occurs, bring the dog in to be examined by a veterinarian immediately.