Disease Risks for Dogs in Social Settings

The risk of going out and catching an illness is not limited to humans, your dog is at risk of various illnesses when they go out into the world. In this post, our Riverbank vets share some of the most common diseases to be on the lookout for if your dog lives a social and active lifestyle.

Diseases Spread at Dog Gatherings

Below is our list of the health risks posed by social settings for your dog. These are the most common and general risks and not an exhaustive list. For a more complete list of the risks your dog is facing in your area, you can always contact your veterinarian  

Canine Distemper

Caused by an exceedingly contagious virus, canine distemper affects the respiratory secretions of infected dogs. This leads to the development of runny eyes and nose, fever, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, paralysis, and death.

Canine distemper is fully preventable via vaccination, and all dogs are recommended to be vaccinated for it as part of their core vaccinations.

Canine Influenza ("Dog Flu")

A relatively new disease for dogs, the canine influenza virus can be particularly nasty because most dogs have never been exposed to it, and as a result, their immune systems are not fully equipped to handle it.

There is a vaccine for canine influenza, but at this time it is not recommended for every dog. Consult your veterinarian to determine if the canine influenza vaccine is right for your canine companion.

Canine parvovirus ("parvo")

Parvo is caused by canine parvovirus type 2. It is a very contagious virus that attacks the gastrointestinal system and causes fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and other similar symptom. Dogs can contract the disease by direct contact between dogs as well as by contaminated stool, surfaces, bowls, collars, leashes, equipment, and the hands and clothing of people. It can also survive in the soil for years, making the virus hard to kill. Treating parvo can be very expensive and many dogs die from parvo despite intensive treatment.

There is a vaccine for parvo. It is considered a "core" vaccine and is recommended for every dog. 

Ticks & Fleas

Fleas are common external parasites that rely on a host animal for survival. Unless steps are taken to break their lifecycle, adult fleas will continue to live and reproduce on your dog and in your household.

Dogs are often allergic to the protein in flea saliva, which is why they often start to scratch as soon as a flea bites their skin. Even one fleabite may cause pets to scratch excessively and become agitated.

Ticks are external parasites that feed on both humans and animals. They do not fly or jump but rely on hosts for transportation. Once they are on your property, pets often become hosts and the parasites are then brought into your home.

Because ticks spread several serious diseases, they are dangerous to both people and pets. People can get serious conditions such as Lyme disease when the tick's saliva makes its way into the bloodstream.

Fertilizers & Pesticides

Avoid letting your dog walk, run, play or roam in areas that have recently been treated with fertilizers or pesticides, many of them are toxic to animals   


Heartworm disease can lead to heart failure, organ damage, severe lung disease, and even death for pets in Riverbank. 

Spread through mosquito bites, heartworm disease is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called dirofilaria immitis.

Pets including dogs, cats, and ferrets can be definitive hosts, meaning that the parasite can live inside these animals, mature into adults, and produce offspring. This serious condition was coined heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of an infected pet. 

Symptoms of heartworm disease typically don't appear until the disease is advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing. 

It's important to keep your pet on preventive medication to prevent heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication, we recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms annually. 

Heartworm prevention is safer, easier, and much more affordable than treating the progressed disease. Several heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms. 

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is an infection of the upper respiratory infection or infectious tracheobronchitis caused by either bacteria or a virus.

Dogs who will be in areas where they may come into contact with other dogs such as doggy daycare, the groomers, the dog park, and boarding facilities, are more likely to come into contact with this illness and develop signs of an upper respiratory infection.

If your dog does end up with severe kennel cough they may need to see a vet that specializes in internal medicine for treatment.

Certain situations can increase the chances of a dog catching diseases. These include the following:

  • Staying in a poorly ventilated living space (such as certain kennels)
  • Colder temperatures
  • Exposure to dust or smoke
  • Stress (often brought on by travel issues)

There are vaccines for kennel cough, but not all dogs need to receive the vaccine. Consult your veterinarian about whether or not the kennel cough (Bordetella) vaccine is right for your dog.


The Rabies virus is capable of infecting all mammals. Most organized social gatherings for dogs, or social spaces for dogs like dog parks, will require proof of rabies vaccination for admittance. The disease is brutal, painful, and 100% fatal. It is passed via saliva thus making the bite of an infected animal the primary concern. As rabies also increases aggression, it makes animals infected with it into even more dangerous carriers.

Fortunately, rabies infection is preventable with vaccination. Most states require pet owners to have proof of vaccination to license their dogs.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

    Are you and your dog ready to socialize? Contact us at River Oak Veterinary Hospital today to get your dog's vaccines and parasite protection up-to-date.