Socializing your dog provides crucial enrichment for canines to navigate urban environments. As outlined in this article, the benefits of socialization are manifold. Much like children attending school or play dates, interacting with their own species fosters social skills. Engagement provides stimulus and necessary fatigue, which prevents various behavioral issues such as separation anxiety, dominance, fear, or aggression from developing. Although the benefits typically far outweigh the risks, here’s a list of common problems that arise out of social contact between dogs:
THE RISKS OF SOCIALIZATION:
INJURY: Dogs play rough, and they play with their mouth. They bounce, chase, and tackle one another because that’s how canines engage with one another, establish hierarchy, and develop social skills. Like children in playgrounds, dogs can sustain injuries such as scrapes, joint injury, puncture wounds and bruising through active engagement with one another.
CONTAGIOUS DISEASES: Dogs can catch parasitic, bacterial or viral conditions from one another even if they are vaccinated against the Canine Influenza and Kennel Cough vaccine as they sniff each other’s butts, lick one another and play with their mouth. Vaccines are not a fool proof prophylactic, and if your dog is geriatric or has a weakened immune system, weighing the benefit of socialization should be discussed with your veterinarian. Here are some common contagious diseases:
- Giardia: Giardia is a protozoan parasite that infects the gastrointestinal tract of dogs, causing diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and lethargy. It is common throughout the United States, and infection can easily occur by walking on puddles or infected streets then licking their paws, swimming in ponds, drinking contaminated water, or contacting one another’s rear ends. Also known as “Montezuma’s Revenge”, humans can catch this parasite from dogs or contaminated water sources such as streams in the wild.
- Papilloma: Also known as oral warts, Papilloma are small, benign tumors of the mouth caused by the Papilloma virus. It’s found on the lips, gums, mouths and other mucous membranes. Dogs under the age of two are often affected by this virus because young dogs with developing immune systems are more susceptible. As their immune system matures, antibodies against the virus develops and the wart eventually disappears. The canine papilloma virus is species specific, and cannot be transmitted from dogs to humans or cats.
- Kennel Cough: This is the equivalent of a common cold with humans with symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, hacking, lethargy, and nasal discharge. Just as human colds can be caused by different viruses, the kennel cough can be caused by multiple sources. One of the most common culprit is a bacterium called Bordetella Bronchiseptica, which is why dogs are vaccinated for Bordetella. However, most dogs that are infected with Bordetella are infected with a virus such as distemper, adenovirus, herpes, parainfluenza, or reovirus at the same time, which makes them more susceptible to contracting the Bordetella infection. Hence, reputable dog care facilities including shelters will require the Bordetella, DA2PP, and Canine Influenza vaccine. Dogs catch the “kennel cough” when they inhale bacteria or viral particles into their respiratory tract as the tract is normally coated with a mucus that traps infectious particles. The particles are air borne– hence, dogs that present these symptoms are quarantined from other dogs at home to prevent contagion.
- Canine Influenza: Canine influenza was first identified in the United States in March, 2015 following an outbreak of dogs with respiratory illnesses in dogs in the Chigaco area. This is a highly contagious viral infection affecting dogs and cats, and it’s a Type A influenza virus, at present, identified with two strains: H3N8 and H3N2. Influenza viruses are quickly able to change and give rise to new strains that can infect different species. Symptoms are the same as the human flu: Fever, cough, congestions, lethargy, and low appetite. Dogs with compromised immune systems are highly susceptible to complications from canine influenza, and keeping the CI vaccine current is critical in preventing outbreaks for dogs in social settings. The caveat is that other strains beyond H3N8 and H3N2 can develop due to mutation or various causes such as antibacterial resistance.
HERD IMMUNITY is a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for dogs who have not developed immunity, or are immunocompromised due to age or physical condition. Therefore, compliance of vaccines for all dog owners are crucial. Vaccines are not a fool proof prophylactic, but herd immunity protects geriatric and immunocompromised dogs from developing severe complications that can lead to fatality.
If your dog is presenting any sign of illness, your dog should refrain from attending social settings such as Dog City or avoid contact with dogs on the street or dog parks. Just like humans, a simple handshake (in a dog’s case, a kiss or a butt sniff), can spread the disease.