Reigning in rabies

Taylor, L.H., Wallace, R.M., Balaram, D., Lindenmayer, J.M., Eckery, D.C., Mutonono-Watkiss, B., Parravani, E., & Nel, L.H. (2017). The Role of Dog Population Management in Rabies elimination — A Review of Current Approaches and Future Opportunities. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 4:109

In low-income countries, a large free-roaming dog population can be linked to rabies transmission and thus create risks to the human population. In order to reduce the rate of rabies, a variety of methods can be undertaken. This paper reviews the current situation.

Dog population management (DPM) is a working concept with three main aims: (1) to improve the health of free-roaming dogs, (2) reduce problems they may cause, and (3) reduce the population size of dogs (when appropriate). Theoretical benefits of implementing DPM for rabies control include: maintaining vaccination coverage, reducing bite incidents, increasing support for interventions and increasing program sustainability. There are nine main branches of DPM, these include: reproductive control tools, vaccination and parasite control, controlling access to food, education, registration, legislation, shelters, holding facilities and euthanasia. Controlling and limiting the dog population is possibly the most effective of the DPM methods, as it focuses on the long-term goal of eradicating rabies. The tools for reproductive control are: surgical sterilisation, injectable contraceptives, implantable contraceptives, oral contraceptives and physical confinement. All five tools have various pros and cons associated with them, and are only feasible in certain circumstances.

No one method is perfect for eradicating rabies

As each method of DPM differs in its cost to run and effectiveness to tackle different problems, none of them are adequate to solve the issue of rabies control by themselves. For example, reproductive control tools are effective but expensive and often require skilled professionals to carry them out. Education is important for future community engagement on the topic, but won’t actually help the current population. Therefore, a mixture of methods should be used in any one situation. Overall, the sterilisation of females had been seen to be the most effective tool and this can be achieved with a single dose of an injectable vaccine. Were this made effective for females or, ideally, both sexes, DPM programs could see a sudden increase in success.

In contrast to dog culling, DPM aims to solve the cause of problem, rather than only tackle with the symptoms. Dog culling has been argued to be ineffective as a long-term solution to reducing rabies within a dog population, and as DPM practices provide more humane methods of dealing with rabies, it is the preferred option.

World Animal Protection’s view

World Animal Protection believes that research aiming to explore humane methods of dog population management are essential to help inform the best strategy and approach.