5 On Your Side

Poop patrol: Protect your dog from parasites at the park

Posted October 15, 2020 2:05 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2020 6:32 p.m. EDT

Dogs are in heaven at the dog park, running, digging and fetching that ball. The not-so-fun part? Researchers found that one out of every five dogs going to a park has an intestinal parasite.

5 On Your Side’s Monica Laliberte said the results are a bit of a wakeup call for pet owners.

"I think if you come to a dog park, you want to make sure your dog is safe," said Mary Wayne, who frequently goes to a Raleigh dog park.

"They are loved as pets, they’re just not receiving that regular care, and part of that regular care is parasite control," said Dr. Susan Little, a veterinarian and professor at Oklahoma State University.

Little worked on the parasite study that involved more than 3,000 dogs at almost 300 dog parks, including parks in the Triangle.

"We really wanted to get a feel for what was the prevalence of parasites in dogs across the U.S.," described Little. "The 20% was higher than I thought."

The research revealed higher-than-expected cases of hookworms, whip worms and giardia at dog parks, especially those in the Southeast.

The parasites can cause anemia, hair coat issues and diarrhea in pets. Extreme cases can cause death.

It’s not pretty but, yes, dogs get parasites from poop – even walking or playing where an infected animal went weeks ago, long after the mess is gone.

"The larvae are still there. Those larvae can penetrate the skin and cause a hookworm infection," explained Little. "Then if the dog does ingest some soil, maybe for a tennis ball or a Frisbee, and get some soil in his mouth, the larvae will penetrate and infect that way."

She added that the parasites are anywhere you take your dogs.

"The same phenomenon is happening in that shared rest area, outside of an apartment complex, the rest stops on the side of the interstate where you take your dog out to walk, even that route you take around the neighborhood at night with your dog," said Little.

You can’t tell if a dog has a parasite just by looking at them. "The only way to know is to do that diagnostic testing," said Little.

Considering how close many people get to their dogs, part of the parasite risk is that it transfers to humans.

"We definitely don’t want eggs and larvae of those parasites in the backyard where the kids might play and could get infected," said Little.

The good news, Little said, is to keep letting your pets play. Just make sure your dog gets a monthly parasite control: oral or topical. Many heart worm medications already offer protection.

"Every dog, every month, all year long, we have to protect them from intestinal parasites," said Little.

It’s a directive pet owners at Raleigh’s Oakwood Dog park said they follow.

"I brought him here with me, and the vet said `I don’t know what it’s like in California, but you have to keep him on medication here in North Carolina,’" said dog owner Mary Wayne.

"I don’t distrust the people here, and I’m happy my dog has his vet visits, so I don’t have to worry about his health at all," added Benjamin Fate.

Another basic strategy to reduce infection is to pick up your dog’s poop immediately. Most owners seem to follow that rule at dogs parks, but you should do that anywhere you dog goes.

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