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Published: May 02, 2012

Dog parks are a great place to exercise your dog and get it the socialization it needs. Many dog parks are entirely fenced in so you can let your canine companion off-leash to play with other dogs, chase its toys or just sniff around. With any type of freedom comes some risks, but there are ways you can prepare your dog for the safest trip to the park possible.

According to a study by the Trust for Public Land, dog parks are the fastest-growing segment of city parks in the U.S., and their use has increased 34 percent over the past five years. Even if you have always brought your canine to the park, the increase in other visitors may make you want to take some precautions before your next visit. Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. reports it spends $8.6 million on medical conditions commonly associated with a trip to the park. Here are some of the more common ones.

Sprains and soft-tissue wounds

Dogs are active and often athletic, but injuries are more common than many owners think. If your dog was rough-housing with others at the park and is limping afterward, call your vet to discuss the possibility of a sprain or other wound that may not heal on its own.

Lacerations and bite wounds

Running through trees, playing with sticks and engaging in other play at the park puts your dog at a higher risk of suffering a cut or dog wounds.  You should also beware of other dogs that get too rough when they play, as an innocent bite could turn more serious. VCA Animal Hospitals reports that about 10 percent of the traumatic injuries vets see are from bites. It can be difficult for most owners to determine the extent of damage done by a bite or fight with another dog, so you should bring your canine to the vet for a full examination. The same is true with other scratches and lacerations from play. Your vet may recommend stitches and Elizabethan collars for dogs to ensure they heal fully.

Insects and parasites

In the summer especially, the risk for insect-borne disease is high. Mosquitoes and ticks are the main culprits, as mosquitoes can carry heartworm disease and ticks can transmit Lyme disease. Make sure your dog has been getting its heartworm, flea and tick preventative medicine before heading to the park. It can also be helpful to check for ticks on dogs after leaving the park as prompt removal can prevent serious illnesses from occurring.  Owners should keep up to date with dog vaccinations in order to ensure proper protection for their dogs when socializing with others.