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Parasite Prevention Unleashed

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


|November 2015

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The purpose of this study was to establish overall level of perceived parasitism risk in dogs, frequency of unleashing dogs in parks, whether owner perception of risk regarding dog-to-human parasite transmission was related to reported frequency of unleashing dogs, and to determine other factors affecting off-leash frequency and risk perception. Survey questionnaires were analyzed to examine associations between behavioral and dog demographic factors, risk perception and acceptability of perceived risks of parasitism, and education regarding parasitism.

Overall, half of the 316 study participants believed parasite transmission between dogs in parks unlikely; risk perception for zoonotic transmission was even lower, with 74.7% of participants believing it to be unlikely. The reported frequency of unleashing dogs, a previously reported risk factor for parasitism, was moderate-to-high. Only 44.9% of respondents reported discussing zoonotic transmission with veterinarians. Education about responsible park use will likely increase awareness and accurate perceptions about parasitism. This expanding role of veterinary public health could help reduce disease transmission risk.


As a dog park-attending pet owner and veterinarian, it is not surprising that I look at the park environment as a hotbed for parasite transmission. With more than 64% of soil samples collected from unfenced parks positive for Toxocara spp¹, I would not be surprised if fenced, dog-designated areas were higher. Educating owners about parasite transmission risk–both dog-to-dog and zoonotic transmission—should be standard primary care practice. As this study found, zoonotic parasite transmission is not routinely discussed between pet owners and veterinarians. Because I practice in an area where heartworm transmission is seasonal, discussion of GI parasitism and zoonotic transmission is one way to encourage year-round heartworm prevention as recommended by the American Heartworm Society ( Requiring all dogs to be dewormed within 30 days before visiting a dog park is difficult to enforce, but fear of heartworm disease at least encourages the majority of my clients to administer a monthly heartworm preventative/anthelmintic to their dogs.—Sandra A. Sawchuk, DVM, MS


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