The warm weather is just about here, and that means the start of camping season. Lots of people love to spend time in the great outdoors during the summer, whether it’s at a summer cottage on the lake, trailer camping in a park with electricity and running water, or roughing it in a tent in the peace and solitude of a more remote wooded location. And many people bring along their faithful companions – their dogs – who enjoy the experience just as much, if not more, than we do.
But there are also dangers lurking in the forests – microscopic dangers carried by tiny insects and other bugs. Ticks in particular are problematic. Certain ticks can carry a number of diseases that can make dogs sick, including Lyme disease (caused by Borrelia burgdorferi) and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)(caused by Rickettsia rickettsii ). Both Lyme disease and RMSF are more common in certain areas where the tick species that carry them are present. You can NOT catch these diseases from your dog, but both you and your dog can be infected by the ticks that carry them. People can also be exposed to these pathogens by accidentally crushing an infected tick while trying to remove it from their dog. Ticks must be removed very carefully to ensure that the entire tick is removed, including the head and mouth pieces, without crushing it. If you're not sure how, contact your veterinarian. Also, the sooner the tick is removed, the less likely it is to transmit certain diseases, so be sure to check your dog thoroughly for ticks when you come back from a walk in the bush.
The Minnesota Department of Health recently reported that the number of cases of (human) Lyme disease increased in that state in 2007. This could be because of spreading tick populations, more people participating in activities in tick-inhabited areas, or increasing awareness and diagnosis of the disease by physicians.
If you and your canine companion will be spending time in some of the wilder and woodier parts of the great outdoors, talk to your veterinarian about what you can do to protect your dog. There are vaccines available for Lyme disease and the bacterial infection leptospirosis (which is also transmissible to people). Flea and tick preventatives are also very important, and many of today’s products are very effective. People should always wear insect repellent when camping or hiking in the woods. Visit the Health Canada website for safety tips on using personal insect repellents. All dogs should be vaccinated for rabies, whether they go camping in the backwoods or they’re house-bound city-slickers.
A sure sign that spring is approach is the advertising of outdoor summer items in stores. A large pile of sandboxes at one store caught my eye the other day, particularly as it followed a discussion I had with some infectious disease physicians about kids and sandboxes. Sandboxes can be a great thing for kids, however there are some infectious disease concerns. Uncovered sandboxes can become litter boxes for cats, raccoons and other outdoor animals. Some of these animals could be passing potentially dangerous bacteria and parasites in their stool. An example of this was reported a few months ago in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. This report described an outbreak of cutaneous larval migrans in 18 children and 4 staff at a day camp. This is a skin disease caused by hookworms. Cats and other animals can pass hookworm eggs in their stool. A sandbox contaminated with cat stool was implicated as the cause.
We really have no clue about how common sandbox exposure causes disease. While this skin disease is usually relatively minor, there are some other groups of parasites that can migrate through other parts of the body, including the brain, and cause devastating illness. All of these are very rare in northern climates like Canada, but measures should be taken to reduce the risk of exposure because of the potential severity of disease. Risks are much higher in warmer climates. These are a significant concern in warmer areas. It’s probably pretty uncommon but some of the diseases that can occur are very serious, so attention should be paid to these risks. The main things that can be done to reduce the risk are keeping animals out of sandboxes and handwashing after contact with sand. Check out our “Sandbox” information sheet for more details.
INFORMATION SHEETS specifically for VETERINARIANS and for KIDS are also available on the Worms & Germs RESOURCES page!
Click on the highlighted topics below for information sheets. Topics that are not highlighted are in development and coming soon. Sheets for other animal species and diseases are also under development and will be added when they are available.
- Your veterinarian and physician are your ultimate resource for information about the health of your pets or your family.
- Information provided here is accurate to the best of our knowledge, but infectious diseases can be unpredictable and these sheets are for general information purposes only.
- There can be great variation in disease risks in different geographic areas. The information provided was developed for Ontario, Canada, but most of the information is relevant for other regions as well.