Killing dogs cannot curb spread of rabies

The recent killing of 82 dogs, two cats and one honey badger for fear of spread of rabies in Yatta, Machakos County was not only cruel but needless.

Killing dogs to end rabies is misinformed and inhumane.

Research and practice have over the years shown that dog vaccination is the sure way of eliminating rabies. Mass vaccination is cost-effective, humane and sustainable.

Taking care of pets, ensuring they have proper feeding, shelter and restrain guarantees that free roaming dog populations are reduced. Dog vaccination acts as a barrier against transmission of rabies from dogs to humans.

Dogs are the main reservoir host for human and canine rabies. Vaccinating at least 70 per cent of dogs in an area creates ‘herd immunity’. The vaccinated dogs form a barrier, slowing the spread of rabies until it dies out.

By removing this main source of infection, rabies cases in dogs and other animal populations can be eliminated and human rabies deaths vastly reduced.

Vaccination is humane; millions of dogs are saved from needless rudimentary culling that is driven by fear of rabies.

Mass dog vaccination is cost-effective. As more dogs are vaccinated, fewer people are bitten by rabid dogs and this can greatly reduce the demand for costly human vaccines given for post-exposure treatment.

Fear of rabies is a major driving force causing millions of unnecessary dog deaths every year. Where rabies is endemic, so is cruelty to dogs. Mass vaccination addresses this fear and improves public attitudes to dogs.

Methods used to kill dogs include poisoning, gassing, electrocution, beating and shooting. All result in slow and agonising deaths.

Strychnine, for example, is administered using meat baits or darts. It causes violent convulsions and impaired breathing, which eventually kills the dogs. With baiting, they may experience extreme pain, for over an hour in some cases. Carbon monoxide, another method, is often administered via car exhaust fumes to dogs that have been herded into gas chambers. Lack of oxygen in the blood and depression of the central nervous system leads to respiratory arrest and eventually, death. During the gassing process, dogs howl, yelp and bark for about seven minutes until they lose consciousness.

They take up to 20 minutes to die. It is important to note here that The World Organisation for Animal Health considers the use of strychnine unacceptable on animal welfare grounds. It recommends capture and euthanasia of suspected dogs.

The spread of rabies does not depend on the density of dogs. Recent scientific studies show that the spread of rabies in very low-density dog populations is similar to that in very high-density populations.

Therefore, reducing the density of dogs through culling will not help control rabies. Secondly, dogs will quickly repopulate areas after having been removed through culling. In culling programmes, vaccinated dogs are often also killed, and culling can therefore lead to a decline in population or herd immunity and exacerbate the spread of rabies.Rabies is incurable once clinical symptoms and signs start to show. However, it is preventable if dealt with effectively.

The ‘One Health’ approach encourages all relevant agencies to work together locally, nationally and internationally to achieve the best possible health for people, animals and the environment.

It’s about pooling efforts, resources and expertise to achieve the best outcome.

Mass dog vaccination, together with effective management of disease risk in humans, is the only humane, sustainable and effective ‘One Health’ response.

Over time, rabies in dogs is eliminated, as is the main threat to human health. This approach will reduce the human, animal and financial cost of the disease.