STILLWATER – As the weather continues to get warmer, more and more outdoor enthusiasts will be camping, hiking, backpacking and generally spending more time out in nature.
Those who spend a lot of time outside are becoming increasingly aware that while enjoying what nature has to offer, they also need to be aware of the risks that come along with the wilderness experience, said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University.
“Not only do people need to be concerned about themselves, they also need to take precautions for their companion animals who accompany them on their outdoor adventures,” Giedt said. “For the most part, when thinking about the risk of outdoor activities, people tend to think of wildlife attacks or physical injuries. While these risks are very real, the risk of exposure to disease is much higher than the risk of an animal attack.”
People who spend a lot of time outdoors increase their risk of exposure to infectious diseases not only from infected animals, but also via insect vectors and contaminated soil and water.
She said diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans either through direct contact with the animal, a contaminated surface, ingesting contaminated water or through insect transmission via mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas or mites.
Giedt has some suggestions to help keep people and their companion animals safe.
“First, if you’re not feeling 100 percent, avoid outdoor activities,” she said. “People and animals are more prone to disease if their immune systems are weakened. Also, make sure your pets are current on their vaccines, especially rabies.”
Keep in mind the importance of preventative treatments for your pets, such as heartworm. Have your pet checked for parasites, including those that can be passed to people.
She also suggests talking with your veterinarian about the appropriate tick-control treatment for your pet. Check dogs for ticks frequently when outdoors and try to limit exposure to tick-infested areas.“If you see signs of sick wildlife or wild bird die-off, report it to the state’s wildlife agency,” Giedt said. “Also, don’t allow your dog to eat dead wildlife.”
Trail riding with horses is a popular activity, but again, limit access to tick-infect areas. Consult with your veterinarian about what topical insect repellents can be used on horses. Check your horse for ticks and remove ticks as soon as possible following exposure. Although not 100 percent effective, consider the use of insect nets designed to be worn over a horse’s eyes and ears to reduce the annoyance of the flying insects and minimize insect bites.
Camping enthusiasts should keep all of their outdoor equipment, including tents, netting and sleeping bags, in good condition. This can help keep pests out of your tent and minimize exposure to disease.
“Taking a few precautions can help ensure both you and your pet have a great outdoor adventure,” Giedt said.