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World Animal Protection Dispels 5 Myths about Dogs and Rabies

Dogs and rabies - why some people are barking up the wrong tree

It’s no wonder that dogs are known as ‘man’s best friend’ - for centuries, they’ve been by our sides. Whether that’s for companionship, home security, or working as a team on the fields, rounding up flocks. 

Their acute senses also mean that they’ve been trained to detect drugs at airports, and work is underway to see if they can even sniff out diseases such as cancer [1] and malaria [2]

With their little wet noses, adorable eyes and fluffy ears, it’s easy to see why they make the world a better place for people, and sometimes, they even save lives.

Dogs are everyday heroes. So why are our canine friends often mistreated?
Barbaric dog fighting, being cooked alive for their meat, and being abandoned when they’re no longer wanted. These are some of the extreme acts of cruelty that these loyal animals endure. One of the big problems facing dogs today, certainly in countries where rabies is present, is the threat of being culled, as a misguided attempt to keep people safe from the disease.

Rabies is a disease that can be transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, which can be carried by dogs. If left untreated, the consequences can be fatal. But, it is preventable. The teams at World Animal Protection not only work on the ground to vaccinate and neuter dogs, but also educate and work with government bodies across the world to eliminate rabies via educating communities. 

World Animal Protection have vaccinated 1.6 million dogs since 2013 and are championing the United Against Rabies Collaboration’s ‘Zero by 30’ rabies elimination initiative. 

Credit: World Animal Protection / Gembong Nusantara
Ketut has his three healthy dogs Tweety, Maxy and Duel regularly vaccinated

Perception #1: The most effective way to eliminate rabies is to cull dogs

Reality: Millions of dogs around the world suffer horrendous cruelty in a bid to reduce their numbers. They’re dragged through the streets, electrocuted, poisoned or gassed – it’s a horrendous way to die, and not to mention, needless. Culling is often seen as a way to control populations of roaming dogs and minimise the risk of rabies. But this is only a misguided attempt to eliminate the disease.

Studies show that when you cull dogs in one area, a new pack of dogs will move in once the territory is available, and killing dogs undermines vaccination efforts where the turnover of dogs is high. In fact, there is no evidence that culling dogs alone has ever led to a reduction in rabies, whereas when vaccination coverage of around 70% or higher has been achieved – the results have been extremely positive [3]

Culling isn’t the answer – it will not eradicate rabies, vaccinations will

The positive impact one simple vaccination can have on a dog cannot be ignored. Mass vaccination of dogs will not just eliminate rabies – it will eliminate the fear of rabies and change the negative perception people have of dogs.

Perception #2: It’s just as effective to treat people that have been exposed to rabies than vaccinating dogs

Reality: Prevention, is always better than cure. By vaccinating dogs for rabies, the disease is stopped in its tracks, and that’s the safest solution. Rabies can be fatal, and if bitten by a rabid dog, it’ll be a race against the clock to find treatment. This is a problem for those far from medical facilities, who cannot afford the treatment, or those who don’t realise that they’ve contracted the disease.

Over 95% of all human rabies cases are caused by contact with rabid dogs. Dogs can’t vaccinate themselves, but people can make a big difference to both the lives of dogs and people around them, by taking responsibility to stop them from being exposed to the disease. 

Credit: World Animal Protection / Nacho Hernandez
Donna, a cook, and her seven-month-old puppy Zorro wait at the free vaccination clinic in Cainta, Philippines

Protected dogs, protect communities, so I they are vaccinated, you can relax in the knowledge that the vaccination is completely effective, and most importantly, vaccinations save lives. 

Perception #3: The most cost-effective way to reduce rabies is to treat people directly

Reality: The financial differences are staggering. When you look at the global average, it costs around $3USD to vaccinate a dog against rabies, and this could be a dog that could transmit the disease to numerous people. 

But on the other hand, treating a person that’s been bitten by a rabid dog will cost $108USD on average – that’s 26 times as much, and the cost is even higher in Asia - 30 times the price. Also, if just 10% of what is spent on post exposure treatment was spent on mass vaccination schemes, then rabies could be eliminated altogether. 

Credit: World Animal Protection
Tongzi, a rural area, is one of the pilot sites for a rabies vaccination project in China

Caring for your dog and keeping them safe from rabies is a small price to pay, it will benefit both dogs and people.

Perception #4: Governments are doing everything they can to eliminate rabies 

Reality: Rabies needs to be a priority for governments in countries affected. There’s a clear opportunity to make sure that rabies programmes are being taught in schools in these countries. Rabies is a particular issue for children, with up to 60% of the victims being under the age of 15 [4]

There are simple messages that children can learn that could save their lives – washing the wound immediately and telling someone they need to see a doctor right away.

Rural communities could especially benefit from implementing vaccination programmes for dogs, and if we stand a chance of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3 then governments must adopt a combined vaccination and education policy.

Perception #5: If you’re bitten by a dog with rabies, the best thing to do is to wash it and see if it will clear up in a few days

Reality: Although washing the wounded area with soap immediately and frequently could make a big difference, this alone won’t stop rabies becoming a serious issue. Once the disease has manifested itself past a certain point and symptoms become apparent, it is 100% fatal.

According to new research done by World Animal Protection, most respondents understood that they should seek immediate medical help, although some thought that cleaning the wound with alcohol, bandaging the wound and catching the dog would suffice. 

The simple fact is, that there are absolutely no medical substitutes when it comes to rabies. If bitten, medical attention must be sought immediately.

Perception #6: It’s easy to identify rabies in dogs – they’ll be foaming at the mouth and roaming, not a pet

Reality: Rabies can affect any dog, even pets. When they contract the disease, they pose a risk immediately, although on the surface, this might not be obvious. Using force or violence to defend yourself against roaming dogs will only aggravate them and make the situation worse, so be calm and kind.

The only way to ensure that the dogs around you are risk-free, is to support vaccination schemes

In addition to this, getting either your pets or dogs around you sterilised and registered or microchipped will also help. Caring for the dogs around you in this way can help prevent the spread of disease, stop unwanted puppies which could lead to more roaming dogs, and make them identifiable as safe. 

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Note: all photography should be credited to World Animal Protection

Lead image: A girl brings her dogs to get rabies vaccinations in Freetown, Sierra Leone




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