pug

They’re welcome in our homes, and maybe even in our beds. But many people find the presence of dogs in restaurants to be unsanitary or simply unsafe.

Across the United States, the laws and city ordinances governing where you can take your pet vary greatly. Typically, dogs are not allowed in restaurants unless they are service animals, which are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But in many cities, lawmakers and pet owners are discussing allowing all dogs on restaurant patios and in other outdoor areas.

A Patchwork of Laws

In 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation allowing dogs in restaurant patios and courtyards. Previously, if it wasn’t a service animal, the restaurant would face health code violations if pooches were allowed on the premises. Still, many reportedly turned a blind eye to the laws.

New York is now considering a similar bill. The law would allow restaurant owners to make the final decision on whether dogs would be allowed on their patios. Citing the fact that many New Yorkers are pet owners, it references a study that found the public health risks of allowing dogs in restaurants to be “very low as long as safety, sanitation, and hygiene practices are enforced.”

And big cities aren’t the only ones. “We have just started an evaluation of this issue,” says Dr. Richard Sagall, who serves on the Board of Health in Gloucester, Massachusetts. “There are some cities in Massachusetts that have already addressed this issue — Salem and Newburyport are two that I know of.”

What Are the Issues?

Dr. Sagall says the debate boils down to three issues: health, safety, and aesthetics.

People want to know that the dogs won’t make them sick, won’t bite them, and won’t generally disrupt their dining experience.

A healthy dog that is fully vaccinated and on a monthly parasite prevention…will pose an extremely low risk to human health.
Dr. Eva Evans

But small animal veterinarian Dr. Eva Evans says the health risks are low. While dogs have the potential to carry zoonotic diseases and parasites, most dogs are vaccinated and on preventive medication to keep them healthy.

“A healthy dog that is fully vaccinated and on a monthly parasite prevention, such as Heartgard, Interceptor, Sentinel, or Advantage Multi will pose an extremely low risk to human health,” she says. And even if the dog is unhealthy, contact with their bodily fluids is unlikely. “As long as the dog’s waste is kept away from the dining area, there is little concern for health risks to humans.”

As for aesthetics, restaurants have to deal with those issues as they arise. Will they ask a patron with a barking dog to leave? What will be the protocol when a dog has an accident near the dining area? No doubt, business owners, pet owners, and city officials have to consider these issues as well as the potential health risks.

When these concerns are addressed and when the animals are healthy, the consensus is that risks are low. For dog owners who like taking their pets everywhere, officials that recognize this and allow for dogs in restaurants will likely make them very happy.