Dog's view of the country

Asking if country-dwelling dogs are healthier than city dogs may seem like a no-brainer.

But you’ll be surprised to learn that rural dogs — even with all that fresh air and plenty of room to run — have their own health issues to contend with compared to city pups.

The Cons of Country Life

“Dogs who live in the country are actually at risk for more trauma-type injuries,” says Dr. Duffy Jones, DVM, founder of the Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta. “Because they’re [more often] not on leashes, they’re hit by more cars, and attacked by wild animals more often than city dogs.”

Country canines also have to deal with more parasites, like ticks, fleas and heartworms (although recent studies have found that heartworm disease is actually higher in some cities, thanks to the muggy heat that tends to attract infected mosquitoes).

Rural-residing pups are also more likely to be exposed to toxic chemicals and poisonings. “On a farm, you’re going to have things like oil and antifreeze lying around,” says Dr. Jones. “And since some dogs are free to roam, they’re more likely to get into that stuff.”

In fact, the one huge benefit cosmopolitan dogs have over their country counterparts is that they’re typically always under the watchful eye of an owner.

“When a city dog has vomiting or diarrhea, they’re usually taken to the vet immediately because the owner notices it right away,” says Dr. Jules Benson, BVSc MRCVS, a veterinarian at the Doylestown Animal Medical Clinic and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA). “A country dog owner might realize that their dog isn’t feeling well, but not know what their specific symptoms are because they don’t see them all day.”

This may explain why urban dogs are 44 percent more likely to see a vet for gastrointestinal issues than rural canines, according to recent Petplan Pet Insurance data.

The other reason: access to care. “In the country, if your vet is 20, 30, 40 miles away, you’re much more likely to wait out a vomiting spell than rush the dog to the vet,” says Dr. Benson.

The Cons of City Life

It’s a good thing that urban-dwelling dogs live so close to their veterinarians — seeing as they’re more likely to need them.

Compared with country pups, city dogs have a higher proportion of allergies, and eye and ear infections. And a 2008 study conducted in Mexico City found that when pets are consistently exposed to urban smog, they’re more likely to suffer from nose and throat ailments, as well as asthma and bronchitis.

The bad news doesn’t stop there, either.

Due to close proximity to other canines, city pups are 30.9 percent more likely to be bitten by other canines than country dogs — and they have a much higher incidence of parvovirus, a disease that’s highly transmittable between dogs.

But the biggest health threat facing urban dogs is obesity, which can be the main underlying cause for many canine health problems.

“About 90 percent of the city patients I see are battling obesity, but you’ll rarely see overweight country dogs because their lifestyles are more similar to what you’d see in the wild,” says Dr. Jones. "If you can get a dog’s weight under control, their anxiety goes down, their behavior problems go down, as well as their risk for cardiovascular issues. It takes a real commitment for city dog owners to carve out time to get pets out running and moving, so they can be healthy and happy.”

How to Keep Your Dog Healthy — No Matter Where You Live

The best thing you can do — regardless of whether you’re based in the city or the country — is to pick the right breed for where you live.

“Do your research,” says Dr. Jones. “Having a Border Collie in the city would be a challenge. That dog needs to work herding animals, and living in a high-rise could eventually cause problems. Conversely, a Maltese probably wouldn’t survive farm life.”

The next step is to properly train your animal in order to keep it safe. “Country dog owners should teach their pets where they can and can’t go — and train them not to chase cars,” says Dr. Jones. “City dogs need to be leash trained. If you’re off leash, chances are something bad is going to happen.”

Finally, make sure that if you have a high-energy pup, he’s getting plenty of exercise. In the country, designate safe areas where your pet can run free. In the city, hire a dog walker if your schedule doesn’t allow for long walks or runs each day.

And, of course, “see your vet on a regular basis for preventive care,” says Dr. Jones. “And you’ll have a good, happy dog.”

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