Dog owners are not only responsible for our dogs, but also our families and the communities we live in. It is not difficult to behave in a sensible manner, keeping a dog on its lead to prevent road traffic accidents and neutering our pets to avoid unwanted pregnancies and the
problems that accompany both male and female sex-hormone-induced behaviour. It is equally important to be aware of the limited range of diseases that dogs can transmit to us.
Dog bite injuries are, overwhelmingly, the most common condition that we suffer from as a result of contact with dogs. In the United States alone, between one and two million people are bitten by dogs each year. Most are children, with boys being more likely to be bitten than girls. Fortunately, most bites are not classified as serious, and fewer than five per cent become infected. In most dog bites that the Pasteurella bacterium is involved. Tetanus is rare in dogs, but can be transmitted to humans in deep bites.
Neutering and behaviour
Breeding ï¿½ the natural consequence of sexual activity ï¿½ is out of the question for most dogs, and lack of fulfilment can lead to social problems and destructive behaviour. Neutering can make life easier both for dogs and their owners. Neutered female dogs no longer experience twice-yearly heat cycles or unwanted pregnancies, and escape the mood swings associated with hormone production. Neutered male dogs wander less, are more responsive, and empty their bladders because they are full, rather than to leave scent messages for other males. And while they retain their territorial guarding behaviour, neutered males are less likely to indulge in aggressive behaviour with other male dogs.
Neutering has only a few potential drawbacks. The most common is weight gain – affecting one in three neutered dogs – but this can readily be controlled by changes to a dog’s diet. Occasionally, a male dog’s odour changes and other males try to sexually mount him. In even rarer circumstances, neutering can lead to hormone-related urinary incontinence.
Transmissible dog diseases
A disease that can be passed to humans by dogs, or other animals, is called a zoonosis. Although these conditions are always of concern, almost all are rare. Dog owners are theoretically at risk of contracting the following:
- Lyme disease: ticks can transmit several infections to dog owners. The most common causes Lyme disease, which can result in enlarged lymph glands, joint inflammation, and pain.
- Rabies: this is the most dangerous disease that can be transmitted by dogs. In regions where rabies is endemic, humans are at risk if bitten by any dog that has not been vaccinated. Once the disease is fully established, in dogs and in humans, there is no cure.
- Migrating roundworms (toxocariasis or visceral larva migrans): canine roundworms are a potential human health hazard. If a person accidentally swallows roundworm eggs, the an eye is affected, and in some children, may trigger an allergic response. Toxocariasis should not be confused with an infection in cats called toxoplasmosis or “toxo” ï¿½ a disease that can cause brain damage and blindness to an unborn child if contracted by a woman during the first trimester of her pregnancy.
- Hydatid disease (echinococcosis): if a dog eats raw, infected sheep offal, it can pick up hydatid tapeworm and pass this nasty parasite to humans. Once contracted, by dogs or by us, this can be an untreatable disease. In areas where this disease is present, precautions should be taken to prevent it: dogs should be wormed every six weeks, and prevented from eating raw offal. Children should be taught never to play with untreated dogs.
- Ringworm: this superficial fungal infection causes circular skin lesions in humans. It is most commonly carried by Persian cats, but can also be carried and transmitted by dogs. Affected dogs are treated with topical antifungal medication combined with oral antibiotics