Monday, 9 July 2012

Population management in dogs and cats

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the global stray dog population at over 200 million, a number which is difficult to conceive. In reality what we in the western world consider as stray dogs, are often actually ‘owned’ in the sense that they may be community or village dogs living in cultures where dogs roam freely, often running in groups. In terms of animal welfare there are numerous issues associated with the management of free-roaming dogs, and often we in the west assume that street dogs such as these will have a poor quality of life. Sadly, this is often the case. However when we look at the conclusions of last year’s PDSA Animal Wellbeing report, that the majority of the UK’s pets are stressed, lonely, overweight, aggressive or misunderstood, we can see that even with the best intentions to do well for our pets, some street dogs, with freedom to roam, and complex social groups, may actually have a relatively good quality of life in terms of their mental and behavioural welfare.

Despite this, dog overpopulation is a global issue. Every year around 55,000 people die of rabies, with dogs acting as the primary vector for the disease, and dog bite injuries create fear in human communities, often leading to dog culling through beating or poison. Surgical sterilisation of both male and female animals has been practiced by many governmental and non-governmental organisations to control dog populations but with sterilisation rate of over 70% required to stabilise populations, such programmes can be expensive and not always effective. Over recent years chemical sterilisation in male dogs using zinc gluconate injections have been trialled through South and Central America but are yet to be widely adopted globally. Most experts agree that in order to control dog populations, sterilisation of the female is the most crucial approach, and unfortunately these injections only target the male dogs. Additionally injection site reactions occur in approximately 4% of dogs, causing pain, swelling and often causing extensive damage to the scrotum.

Unfortunately when it comes to dog population control there are no easy solutions, fortunately, there are many groups determined to make progress on these issues. Later this year the UK will host the 1st conference on International Dog Population Management  (https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/dogs2012/index.cfm  ) where experts from around the globe, including the team from the Jeanne Marchig international Centre for Animal Welfare Education will come together to discuss issues surrounding dog population management, and develop inter-sectorial collaborative approaches to these issues.

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