The down side of dog parks

Many urban dog-owners swear by their local dog parks. For canine companions who live in apartments or don't have access to a yard, the opportunity to gallop around, roll in dirt, and have "play dates" with other dogs at the dog run is really important.

But dangers can lurk in the grass. We've all heard (or made) the jokes about day-cares for human children doubling as petri dishes for every cough and cold in town – but the same can go for the dog park. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take Rex for an afternoon of happy digging and fetching, but you CAN be aware and prepared.

Six things that could endanger your dog at the dog park:

Bites. Not every other dog owner is as conscientious as you; occasionally, you could run into a dog with behavioral problems or aggression issues – or a usually well-behaved dog who's gotten startled by a bee sting or something. And if you have a Maltese who's sharing the enclosure with Great Danes, well, accidents happen. Keep an eye on your dog, and on other dogs at the park you think might pose a problem by biting or jumping on your dog. Pet Place's article on the topic suggests keeping a doggie first-aid kit in your car (a few basics in a backpack or bike basket can also work).

Parasites. Fleas and ticks will hide out in various parts of a dog-park environment, just waiting for the chance to jump on your hound – and with the record flea-and-tick season predicted by many experts already underway, prevention is key. Ask your vet about a year-round anti-flea medication, and check Poochie thoroughly for ticks after you leave. (Found one? Gross – but Vetstreet can help with safe removal.)

Worms. A dog with a worm infestation can pass it on just by pooping at the dog park, because worms can survive on the ground or in the grass for several days. If YOUR dog gnaws on some of that grass, or walks through an infested patch and then licks her feet, "congratulations" – she'll have worms too. There's not much way to police this, alas, but if you usually spend your time at the dog park reading a book, consider switching to earbuds and carefully watching what your dog is chewing on. Bathing her afterwards could also help.

Yahoo! News: Ann Romney says family dog Seamus "loved" trips on roof of car

Parvovirus. Parvo is highly dangerous and highly contagious – and the virus can live on the ground for months, even years. Make extra sure your dog or puppy has been vaccinated against it with the full puppy series (about once a month from the age of 6 weeks to 16 weeks), and regular updates as a grown dog. And again, he can pick this up by eating grass or gnawing on a shared toy, so be aware of what he's putting in his mouth if you can.

Kennel cough. Its official name is infectious tracheobronchitis, and dogs usually get it from spending a lot of time with other dogs in a small space. It spreads through the air and is highly contagious, and the symptoms look a lot like a head cold, although some dogs can develop more serious infections, including pneumonia. Good news, though: there's a vaccine for it, and if your dog is prone to breathing problems (Pugs, for example) or spends a lot of time at the park or in doggie day-care, ask your vet about the shot.

Rabies. It's very unlikely – vaccinating your dog against rabies is required by law in most places – but why take chances. Make sure YOU follow the law and protect your dog against an unvaccinated dog's (or sick raccoon's) bite with the proper shots.

Like we said, there's no need to keep Princess inside for the duration, but a few simple precautions can keep her safe. Make sure she's current with all her shots. Pay attention to other dogs at the park, and to what your dog is playing with or nibbling on. Kibosh fleas and other cooties with a quick visual check; a fast bath or a swipe of her paws with a pet-safe disinfectant wipe can also help, and if you bring her toys or sweaters to the park, clean them afterwards as well.

And have fun!

Copyright © 2012 Yahoo Inc.

Elsewhere on Shine Pets:
How to socialize a new puppy
Celeb loses second pet to predators
ASPCA study says prettier pups picked first