Unless you've been living under a rock with limited wi-fi, then you're probably fully aware that Pokémon GO is all the rage. The interactive game has millions of players taking to the streets to "catch" the Pokémon characters on their phones.
The phenomenon has been making headlines, and news stories have covered everything ranging from people stumbling upon disturbing discoveries instead of a Zubat, to making love connections while trying to catch a Squirtle.
Dr. Nancy Chilla-Smith of PAWSitive Veterinary in Brooklyn, New York worries that playing the game—like any other cell-phone distractions—could be dangerous for dog owners and their pets.
"Owners are less likely to pay attention to many things," Chilla-Smith tells petMD. "They may not look before crossing the street and, oftentimes, dogs are leading their owners, so they are the first in the road. That is a big risk for getting hit by a car."
Other dangers that could befall pets whose parents are distracted by Pokémon GO are dog waste not being picked up (which could cause problems for other dogs or children) and a dog eating something potentially life-threatening—like chicken bones or roadkill—off the street, says Chilla-Smith.
The Brooklyn vet has already noticed a difference on the streets of her neighborhood. "I've seen owners distracted on their phones with their dogs tugging the leash into the road or at other dogs," she says. "It is a problem."
Dr. Mina Youssef, DVM, of the North Star Animal Hospital in San Antonio, Tex., and Jennifer Scruggs, MSW, of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, also point out that the game is hitting its stride in the summer months, a dangerous time for dogs. "Be mindful of the summer temperatures and time of day you go outside with your dog," Youssef and Scruggs remind gamers. "The padding of dog's paws are sensitive to being pricked and exposed to heat... asphalt temperatures rise quickly. When possible, walk your dog on grass or concrete and check their paws often."
While most of the Pokémon GO news stories that are related to animals are positive so far (including some players saving abandoned animals they stumbled upon while playing), Chilla-Smith wonders if it will take a sad story to make pet parents more aware of the possible risks. "The downside is, even with education, warnings, and common sense, owners are still going to bring their phones on walks and play the game."
However, some think that Pokémon GO is no different from any of the other distractions that face pet parents. "People have been bringing a newspaper with them to read at the dog park (instead of watching their dog) for years before we had Pokémon GO or even cell phones," says Connie Griffin, the general manager of World of Animals in Philadelphia. "This fad is just the latest in a long list of distractions we deal with everyday."
Those distractions—including Pokémon GO—present a real problem in the eyes of professionaldog trainer Victoria Schade, who says that time spent on cell phones can negatively impact the relationships people have with their dogs.
"Connected, mindful leash walks are an important part of the bonding process, and pet parents should always be present when they're outside with their dogs," she says. "Staying focused on your dog means that you can praise him for things like elimination and polite leash manners, and it allows you to be aware of what's happening around you."
Simply put: "If you're immersed in the virtual world, you're less likely to notice potential real world hazards," says Schade.
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