• Jennifer Giesbrecht

Health considerations of social environments

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Our dogs 😍.

We love 'em and live with 'em, we consider them family. Whatever affects them, affects us. And that's how loving them works!💖 So when we hear a sniffle, a sneeze, or anything other health issue our dog is going through, we reaaaally feel it.

Dogs, just like people, are vulnerable to a myriad of sniffles, sneezes, coughs, viruses, bacteria, illnesses, injury and other ailments. And this is even with regular vaccinations and the most pristine environment.

We consider our role to be the most-important one; we are guardians and caretakers of those without a voice. You and your dog trust us to advocate, lobby, and love them. And we take that responsibility very seriously.

We also take very seriously our role of strengthening the relationship between dog and owner and of educating owners on all aspects of dog ownership.

And a very important area of ownership and animal stewardship is not only taking care of their health, but also of being aware of how environment, social play, new experiences and new places can expose dogs and how that can impact their health.

And what you know is just as, if not more, important than what we know and look out for.

Health impact of social play

Just like with children at school, there are inherent risks of exposure to any number of viruses or bacteria when your dog participates in play with others.

These can go from the external creepy-crawlies to the internal. This is just a by-product of dogs living out in the world, developing immunity to different viruses or bacteria, bringing in different bacteria or viruses to a social environment, and having varying levels of immunity.

If your dog is new to boarding, does so infrequently, doesn’t attend daycare regularly, or is young or doesn’t interact with many new dogs regularly, then your dog’s immune system will be more susceptible and less able to fight off viruses.

Being exposed to viruses is also how your dog’s immune system is strengthened and, just like people, increased exposure to the world and interaction with others improves their immune system in dogs with regular immune systems.

Our vaccine protocols require dogs to be up-to-date on their vaccinations and to also follow a flea, tick and lice preventive regimen of the owner's choice. We have very strict cleaning and sanitization protocols and do all we can to provide the safest and cleanest environment possible.

But even with all preventive measures, we can never ensure complete immunity for any guest against all the potential health risks of social stays and interaction. We'd love to! But we know we can't. So we do all we can that's within our power and available to us to mitigate and prevent.


Vaccinations are great! They help protect our dogs against some of the heavy-hitter viruses of the dog-health world. The core vaccines include Rabies, Distemper, Parvovirus, and Adenovirus (Canine Hepatitis). There is some disagreement out there on how long a dog will remain immune for after being vaccinated, so following the recommended schedule from your vet or doing regular titre testing (which measures the level of antibodies against a particular disease in a sample of blood) will assure you of your dog's ongoing immunity.


A common non-core vaccine recommended by vets is the Bordetella vaccine. Bordetella bronchiseptica is one of multiple viral and bacterial agents responsible for canine infectious tracheobronchitis, which is also sometimes called kennel cough or canine cough.

It's important to know that, just like with a flu shot for people, having the Bordetella vaccine will not prevent your dog from potentially catching any variant or strain of kennel cough. There are many Bordetella-causing agents, and the vaccine doesn't cover them all.

Some dogs don't display any symptoms and by the time others do display symptoms, they will already have been contagious, which makes it a very tricky social illness to monitor for and impossible to prevent.

In healthy adult dogs, Bordetella typically remains as a mild cold-like illness and resolves itself; however, there are always exceptions, and in puppies or dogs with underlying health issues or compromised immune systems it can remain in their system much longer or become more serious requiring vet treatment or antibiotics.

The Bordetella vaccine can be administered intranasally, orally, or by injection. The intranasal and oral vaccines are live vaccines, and dogs can shed the virus for more than a week after administration. This is why we ask all clients whose dogs receive the intranasal or oral administration to wait at least 7 days before attending boarding or daycare.

We also ask for this wait period because your dog's immunity could dip in the period after they receive a vaccine booster, causing them to be susceptible to viruses or bacteria that otherwise would have no effect on them.

Stress and compromised immune systems

Just like with people, dogs experience stress of varying levels in new situations and deal with stress in varying ways. And being away from home always has an element of stress, simply because it's not home.

Stress can cause the body’s immune system to drop, which can increase a body's susceptibility to social viruses or bacteria they would normally fend off, to any pre-existing condition that their immune system previously managed, or to any pre-disposed genetic condition.

This is particularly relevant for those whose dogs have never been to daycare and have never boarded, as this combines stress with a less-robust immune system. This will often be a reason a person's dog has never had an illness or issue and then will return home from a stay somewhere and present with something following their stay.


Stress causes the body to product cortisol which can cause diarrhea. Depending on the length of stay, this can present during their stay away from home or after once they get home. GI upset (gastroenteritis) can present with blood in the diarrhea, as the frequent stool movements can irritate the bowels and cause blood to come out with the diarrhea.

These are things we watch closely for when guests stay with us and is important for all owners to also know.

If we note your dog having diarrhea while with us, we will let you know.

Eating less

Dogs will very often eat less when away from home. This is generally a response to the stress of being in a new place. Just as with humans, the release of cortisol in a dog's system acts as an appetite suppressant. While some people may be stress eaters, dogs generally aren't.

And if a dog is experiencing any GI upset, then eating less may also be of benefit to them as their system won’t be processing as much food.

We track our guests' eating habits and will let you know if there are any concerns.

Nicks, scratches or scrapes

Ahhh play! The best part of social interaction! But also the most inherently risky, with each furry cutie also having nails of varying length and (normally) 42 teeth in each mouth.

We never let play escalate to an intense level or allow any dog to play with an unwilling partner. Our attendants are trained in body language and behaviour and ensure play remains at an enjoyable, positive level. However, even with that, dogs are dogs with those 42 teeth each, and activity always holds the possibility of bruises, cuts, nicks, or other injuries (just as when kids are at camp). Puppy teeth are notoriously sharp, and puppies learn the all-important bite-inhibition from playing with their new friends.

We allow dogs to play their own style as long as their play partner matches their style and play remains positive and enjoyable for the play partners and safe in group. We limit running, but play can include jumping, quick turns, or other roughhousing.

Despite all precautions, training, supervision, and interaction, there is no way to eliminate entirely the possibility that a scuffle may happen between two dogs. If your dog does have a scuffle with another—however minor—we will always inform you.

Blisters or sore muscles

Dogs in daycare play much more than they do at home, and the same thing can happen to them as to a person who hasn’t been to the gym or played a sport in a long time—they might get sore muscles (delayed onset muscle soreness, the same as people).

We also have found that, due to the increased activity, their own nails can rub their toes and create blisters, just as our feet with new shoes. We watch for all signs of this and will inform you of anything we note.

Being sleepy

Once you get home with your dog, they may cash out and sleep more than normal. Your dog has been busy with friends and in a new place. They have likely slept less than their regular lives (which for dogs can include up to 18 hours of sleep) and played more, and once they're home it's time to re-charge!


Once the fun of the day is complete and dogs are resting in their suites for night, some dogs cope with the change in environment and with being away from their people by licking—usually a spot on a leg. This is a natural soothing action in response to a change.

Sometimes all it takes is one night for a dog to lick a spot to create a small sore, and it doesn’t take long for that small sore to increase in size. If we make note of this behaviour, we will inform you.

Eye infections

Just like with kids in schools, minor bacterial or viral infections (pink eye or conjunctivitis) can be spread from one dog to another in a social setting, just as it can with children at school.

If your dog is new to social play, young or simply hasn't encountered a specific virus before, the potential for them picking something up from a friend increases.

Fleas and lice

Creepy crawlies can hitch a ride in on guests. From April to October we do require a flea, tick and lice treatment, and we recommend it throughout the rest year. We understand that there is some controversy around flea and tick treatments, and we leave the type of treatment up to you, whether natural, vet-prescribed or retail.

If we encounter a guest that has brought in any creepy crawlies, we will inform you.

Thankfully dog lice, while sounding awful, aren't as difficult to treat as human lice.

Looking out for your dog

Our whole mission is to provide the best care for your dog, and to pass on everything we know on to you, so we are partners together in caring for your special family member.

If you ever have any questions at all, please give us a shout! We love talking all things dog and are happy to pass on any knowledge we might have that might make your life with your dog better.💖

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