Dogs are social creatures, and there's nothing as heartwarming as seeing your pooch make some new friends at the dog park, doggy daycare, or a playdate. Our Long Island team talks about common diseases that may be spread at a dog gathering, effective treatments, and when to go to the vet.
How are infectious diseases spread in dogs?
There are many infectious diseases that can range in seriousness, cause, and method of transmission. Some diseases are spread through contact, respiratory droplets, soil contaminated with infected dog feces, parasites like ticks and fleas, and other conditions caused by a variety of external and internal factors.
The following are some examples of diseases and conditions that dogs can contract from social gatherings:
Infectious diseases caused by viruses & bacteria
Canine distemper is an extremely contagious virus and is usually spread to puppies and dogs usually through virus particles in the air or in the respiratory secretions of infected dogs. Symptoms include runny eyes, fever, a snotty nose, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and paralysis. If untreated, it can be fatal - but there is an effective vaccine available to protect your puppy or dog, and it is recommended for every dog.
Canine influenza (aka "canine flu" or "dog flu") is fairly new in dogs, who have not yet built up an immunity to it. The virus spreads through respiratory secretions, shared objects (e.g. collars, bowls, leashes), and even people's clothing and hands. dogs can be infectious before showing signs of illness (which include cough, fever, and runny nose). Although there is a vaccine for canine influenza, it is important to speak to your veterinarian as it is not suitable for every dog.
Canine parvovirus type 2 ("parvo") is very infectious and affects your dog's gastrointestinal system, causing fever, vomiting, and severe, often bloody, diarrhea. It spreads via direct contact with an infected dog or contaminated stools or shared objects, and the hands or clothing of people. It is a serious disease, with an expensive treatment regimen with limited success rates. The best cure is prevention - parvo vaccinations are a part of your dog's core care.
Kennel cough (Bordetella) can be caused by a mixture of viruses and bacteria. Dogs with kennel cough may exhibit symptoms early in the illness, but an infect other canines easily. Most commonly, dogs with kennel cough will have a snotty nose and a dry, hacking cough. Although there are vaccines for kennel cough, not all dogs need one; consult your veterinarian for advice for your dog.
Leptospirosis is caused by species of the Leptospira bacteria. Infected animals' urine is the method by which animals and people contract the disease, usually from contaminated food, water or soil. Symptoms in dogs with Leptospira can include fever, muscle weakness, vomiting, lethargy, abdominal pain, and kidney or liver failure. Some vaccinations for canine distemper include a vaccine for leptospirosis; consult your veterinarian about whether or not the vaccine is appropriate for your dog.
The rabies virus can infect any mammal and has a 100% fatality rate once symptoms begin to show. Because of the seriousness of this disease, most places that cater to dog gatherings (e.g. dog parks, pet boarding) require proof of rabies vaccination. The virus is spread by saliva, either directly from a bite from an infected animal, or contaminated saliva getting into a wound. Rabies is preventable with vaccination, and many local and state governments require regular rabies vaccination for dogs.
Infectious diseases caused by parasites and insects
External parasites like ticks, fleas, and mange, are issues that dogs experience often. Ticks from the environment, fleas from other dogs and the environment, and mange from other dogs pose risks at dog gatherings. Ticks can transmit diseases (see tick-borne diseases below). Fleas can transmit some types of tapeworms as well as some diseases, and they may end up infesting your home and yard if they hitchhike home on your dog(s).
Tick-borne diseases (hemobartonellosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, etc)
A variety of diseases that can infect dogs are spread by ticks, including Lyme disease and many others. Tick-borne diseases can cause a number of symptoms ranging in severity from general weakness and lethargy to blood loss, organ failure, and even death. As with many of these diseases, prevention is key; using tick preventive products reduces the likelihood of your dog being bitten or infected by ticks. Aside from asking your vet for advice on tick prevention products, you should also inspect your dog for ticks after any outside dog gatherings and remove them as soon as possible.
Cheyletiella mites are known as 'walking dandruff' on dogs (itchy, flaky skin on the dog's body). They are spread from dog to dog by direct contact and may need more intensive treatment than for fleas.
Intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms are passed through eggs present in an infected dog's stool and infect other dogs when they consume contaminated soil or water or lick their fur or paws. Tapeworms are spread when dogs eat fleas, lice, or rodents that have tapeworm infections. These worms can cause malnutrition by taking nutrients from your dog and often cause diarrhea; hookworms can cause blood loss. Fortunately, there are many options for treating intestinal worms; your vet will be able to recommend the most appropriate ones based on your unique pet.
Conditions caused by environmental factors
Fungal infections caused by organisms that live in the soil can infect dogs when they eat or sniff a contaminated area of ground. Dogs can also get infected through a wound on their skin. Generally, the fungus infects the respiratory tract and can cause fever, coughing, lethargy and flu-like or pneumonia-like signs. If consumed orally, digestive problems occur.
'Ringworm' evokes an actual worm, but it is actually due to fungal infection of the skin. It can be spread from dog to dog through contact with each other and shared objects. by contact with an infected dog, its bedding, or something that has come in contact with the infected dog. Ringworm often manifests as circular patches of hair loss, leading to the name 'ringworm'. Most dogs recover fine on their own, but treatment to prevent spreading it to other dogs or people is recommended.
Fertilizers and pesticides can be toxic to dogs. Keep your dog from walking, running, sniffing, playing or otherwise exploring areas that have had fertilizers or [pesticides recently used on them.
Heatstroke is a high risk for dogs during warm weather or in hot climates. Dogs are always covered in fur and run warmed than humans, so a temperature that seems only a little warm to a person can be too hot for a dog. Additionally, dogs at canine social gatherings are usually playing and active, making watching for heatstroke even more important for pet parents. Never leave your pet in the car on warm days.
Signs of heatstroke include excessive panting and drooling, anxiousness, weakness, dark red or purplish hums, collapse and even death.
Any sign of heatstroke in your dog means immediate action. Take them to a shaded area and cool them with cool, wet towels that are wrung out and rewetted every few minutes, and get to a veterinarian right away. Heatstroke can quickly become fatal in dogs.
Toxic plants can cause a variety of illnesses, including plants inside our own homes. Some garden and ornamental plants are extremely toxic to animals, so check with your vet that your household and yard plants are pet-safe – or ensure that your dog cannot access them.
Keeping your dog safe from diseases and other conditions in dog gatherings doesn't have to be overwhelming! Consulting your vet for preventive care, treatment and advice is the best way to ensure that your dog stays safe while having fun with their canine companions.