Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Daycare Has Gone to the Dogs!

Pet Column for the week of January 18, 2010

Related information:

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Kelly Ballantyne, DVM
Many people drop their child off at daycare in the morning on their way to work. But an increasing number of Americans are dropping their child off, and then the dog as well.

Dr. Kelly Ballantyne is a veterinarian at Furnetic, the University of Illinois' primary care veterinary clinic in Chicago, who is also pursuing board certification in veterinary behavior. She says, "Daycare can be a good way to provide exercise and mental stimulation for dogs." It also may prove beneficial in those pets with separation anxiety, who cannot tolerate the absence of their owner without becoming overly anxious or resort to destructive behavior.

But as many parents can attest, there can be some drawbacks to daycare. For one, keeping a group of animals together, whether that be children or pets, can be a great way to spread an illness. For example, Dr. Ballantyne notes that, "Some infectious diseases like the canine influenza virus can be transmitted from dog to dog before any of the animals show significant signs of illness." Therefore, prevention can be difficult, although it is almost inevitable that your child or your pet will pick up some illness over the course of its stay.

That said, there are a few precautions pet owners can take to help ensure that they are enrolling their dog in a reputable daycare facility. Here is a list of items Dr. Ballantyne recommends that you look for:

  • Does the daycare facility have vaccination and deworming/parasite prevention requirements which match those of your veterinarian?
  • Do they have a thorough screening procedure for new dogs? This may include a phone and an in-person interview, as well as a short trial play session with the current daycare members.
  • Dogs should never be left unattended.
  • Good facilities will separate dogs into groups according to their play style.
  • Owners should ask to visit the facility before enrolling their pet. If you notice anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, such as inappropriate discipline, you should go elsewhere.
  • After starting daycare, if your dog is fearful or anxious upon returning to the facility, that is a good sign that you should not continue there.

    Although doggie daycare seems like a dream come true for some pets, there are a few categories of dogs that should not enroll. "If your dog has ever bitten another dog or person, or has a chronic illness, they are probably not appropriate candidates," notes Dr. Ballantyne. Not every pet will enjoy doggie daycare, and some will be better off relaxing in the familiarity of their own home.

    On a special note, puppies under four months of age should not go to doggie daycare. The risk of catching a serious infectious disease at this time is too high. A better environment for a puppy of this age is a good puppy socialization class, which Dr. Ballantyne recommends for all puppies between the age of 8 and 16 weeks.

    For more information on the benefits and drawbacks of doggie daycare, please contact your local veterinarian.