Healthy Dog Parks: A Community Effort

April 25, 2024, Department, by John Sarver and Judy Morgan, DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT

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The popularity of dog parks continues to grow; with that growth comes the need for progressive development within the design and operations of the amenity. People enjoy taking their dog to the park where their furry friends can play with other dogs and socialize. Parks are also a form of social interaction for both the dogs and their owners. It is very important that dogs can play and interact with other dogs for their emotional and mental well-being. Being able to do this in an unleashed environment, such as a fenced-in dog park, is even better as the dogs can be free to run and play and senior dogs can walk around, sniff their surroundings and enjoy their time with others.

Protecting Pets

One of the key elements to having a safe and fun park experience is to make sure the park is clean. The best start to ensuring the park is sanitary includes posting signs about the importance of picking up after the dogs completely and promptly. Signs should emphasize that the park community enforces this “pick-up completely and promptly” rule, as this is the start to a good park experience for users.

From time to time, there are reports of certain illnesses that impact dogs circulating in the United States. During the past six months, a mysterious respiratory disease, dubbed the canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), has made headlines after dogs became ill with severe coughing and pneumonia. The specific organism causing the disease has not been identified; the disease may be a combination of viral, bacterial or mycoplasma infections. The disease is not responsive to traditional antibiotics that are used for pneumonia and other common respiratory illnesses. An older antibiotic, chloramphenicol, has shown promise in many cases. Senior dogs, dogs with compromised immune systems, and dogs with cardiac disease or compromised respiratory function are most at risk for contracting the disease.

Prioritizing Health

Strengthening the immune system is the best defense against disease. A high-quality, species-appropriate diet, along with supplements, can help. Turkey tail mushrooms, vitamin C, colostrum, probiotics, blueberries, steamed broccoli, red bell pepper and freshly grated ginger root all support the immune system. These can be added to the diet in small amounts or fed as treats. For dogs that become ill, cordyceps mushrooms increase oxygen uptake and Manuka honey can help relieve cough. N-acetyl cysteine helps break up mucous and congestion.

The best way to make sure dogs can still come to the park and have a safe experience is to provide drinking water that is not shared by all the dogs. Having water fountains where the water drains immediately is important so dogs are not sharing the same water. People also can bring their own water bowls and water from home.

Make sure the park is groomed properly, with grass being kept cut to a proper level, the fence line kept low and equipment cleaned regularly. During reports of illnesses, toys may need to be put away so dogs are not sharing toys that could possibly transmit diseases from saliva. Proper signage should be posted, warning owners with dogs that may be contagious to avoid using the park until they recover.

Dog parks are a lot like restaurants, in that a good, clean dog park is the start to everything staying healthy. When the dog park owners and the park community share a high level of pride in keeping the park clean, time spent at the park will be safer and more enjoyable for all. The health of the dog park is going to be dependent on each dog being healthy and the park being kept clean and well-maintained.

John Sarver is the Founder of The Dog Park Company and Director of Design for Gyms For Dogs. Judy Morgan, DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT, is the owner of Dr. Judy Morgan’s Naturally Healthy Pets.