Unleashing bacteria

Dog parks ripe for both fun and spread of canine disease
Wednesday, June 8, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:11 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Brian Barker takes his two Labrador retrievers to Twin Lakes Recreation Area every other day during the summer. Barker, an events coordinator for the MU Center for Literary Arts, said it is a good place for his dogs to come off their leashes, get exercise and swim in the lake.

Twin Lakes is one of five off-leash areas for dogs in Columbia, but it is the only off-leash area that has a large lake.

“I have two labs, and they both love to fetch things out of the water,” Barker said. “I have been to many other states and haven’t found a dog park I like as much as Twin Lakes.”

However, for dogs playing in still water, it isn’t always fun and games.

“Anytime you have a pool of standing water that dogs can jump in and out of, there is a good chance you will find high levels of nitrates and bacteria in the water,” said Bob Broz, a state water quality specialist with MU Extension. “Along with that, you will find any organisms that were in the dog’s system that were passed through defecation.”

Broz said the water does not need to be tested for him to know that bacteria exist in the lake.

“Dog owners requested having an off-leash park with a lake in it,” said Mike Hood, director of Columbia Parks and Recreation. “They wanted to have a place for their dogs to swim.”

Hood also said the city does not check the water the dog lake for bacteria.

George Hobson, a professional dog trainer in Columbia, said he worries that the average dog owner is not generally aware of the health and behavior problems that can arise at a dog park.

“The potential for contact with dogs that have contagious health issues such as ringworm, ear mites, fleas or fungal infections that are unknown to the owners would, in general, preclude taking dogs for unrestricted contact in dog parks,” Hobson said. “This is because the owners of dogs with these potentially contagious health issues may not even be aware that their canine companion has it.”

Craig Datz, a veterinarian for the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, said dog parks are a good place for dogs but acknowledges that dogs can get sick from the water.


Hailey Hartman said she brings her dog Zoe to Twin Lakes Recreation Area several times a week to develop Zoe’s sociability. (KYLE McDANIEL/Missourian)

“Any standing body of water is dangerous, because it can increase the dog’s chance of getting an infection,” Datz said. “We see ear infections occasionally. Dogs swim in infectious water, and the bacteria cause the infection. However, I can’t say that we have seen a lot of people bring their sick dogs in and say it is because of the dog park.”

Datz recommends that every dog owner to update their dogs’ rabies shots and parvo/distemper vaccines before making a trip to any of Columbia’s off-leash parks.

“De-worming medications are also being given because worms can be picked up at the dog park,” Datz said.

City ordinance 14881 says dog owners are required to pick up their dogs’ feces, but not everyone abides by the ordinance.

Datz said the park would be much safer if people followed the ordinance more closely.

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