Rabies and stray dogs in Thailand – the real story

by Soi Dog Foundation

Successful Strategy in Rabies Free Phuket Leads The Way.

Rabies-and-stray-dogPhuket, 25 April 2016 – Recent articles in the media regarding the stray dog problem and its relation to rabies are totally inaccurate and could be interpreted as sensationalism and scare mongering.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO) rabies is a neglected disease that occurs mainly in remote rural communities where human vaccines and immunoglobulin are not readily available.

Stray dogs can be afflicted by a myriad of diseases or ailments as a result of tick bourne diseases, skin diseases, poor nutrition, injuries sustained by fights, abuse and vehicular accidents. To imply that 90% of stray dogs that become sick are suffering from rabies is totally contrary to figures published each year by the Department of Livestock Development. The DLD has worked with local communities to increase the testing of dead dogs from all provinces, and the latest data indicates that there were only 115 total positive cases of rabies diagnosed in dogs in their laboratories in the whole of Thailand from January to end March 2016. When taking the millions of dogs in Thailand, this translates into only a miniscule percentage of dogs carrying the disease.

As recently as December 2015 the world’s leading authorities on disease control (WHO, The Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations, The World Organisation for Animal Health, and the Global Alliance for Rabies control), all jointly reiterated their policy that the most effective way to eliminate rabies is to vaccinate 70% of the canine population in a country or region, and to impose strict quarantine regulations to prevent unvaccinated dogs crossing from one  region into another.

An additional, but just as important long term strategy, is also to reduce the population of stray dogs by sterilising a minimum of 80% of such dogs within each environment. It should also be noted that impounding  vaccinated and sterilised dogs is counterproductive, as the herd immunity created by vaccination is diluted as new unvaccinated dogs move in to replace the impounded dogs.

Although most areas now run annual vaccination programmes for owned dogs, these are reliant on owners bringing their dogs to local clinics. Few programmes, other than those carried out by NGOs, exist to vaccinate and sterilize the stray dog population.

The programme carried out by Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket is an example of what can be achieved when both owned and stray dogs are targeted for vaccination and sterilisation. Phuket is officially rabies free and surveys have shown that the stray dog population has declined by over 50% in the past 5 years alone. This despite  the many unvaccinated puppies from other areas of Thailand, where rabies has not been eliminated, being allowed to enter the province for sale at local markets and pet stores. The successful Phuket programme is now being replicated in Phang Nga province and will be rolled out in other provinces in the future as funds allow.

Rabies-and-stray-LogoThe Soi Dog Foundation, with support from another international charity, has also proposed a massive Thb550m, seven year programme to sterilise and vaccinate the street dogs in Bangkok using the Phuket model. A dog population survey carried out in May 2015 indicated that there were approximately 640,000 free roaming dogs in greater Bangkok, (strays, community dogs and free roaming pets). The programme has the full support of the DLD, but more than a year later, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority have refused to agree to the enabling conditions required for such a programme to proceed, despite it involving no cost to the authority or the Thai taxpayer.

No accurate figures exist to indicate the total number of free roaming dogs in Thailand but it certainly  runs into the millions.  Sterilisation, vaccination of owned dogs and street dogs, restriction of movement of unvaccinated and unsterilised dogs, education of communities and improved waste control are the only proven ways to reduce rabies and the number of stray dogs in Thailand. Alternative attempts at reducing the street dogs by culling through the poisoning and impounding of dogs are both inhumane and has never worked anywhere in Thailand or Asia, and is not a long term solution to the rabies or stray dog population problem.

To eliminate rabies and reduce Thailand’s stray dog population is certainly achievable but will require a sustainable long term and humane strategy, significant investment, and dedication by the authorities and the local communities towards the goals of reducing the stray dog population and a rabies free Kingdom of Thailand.

About Soi Dog Foundation: Soi Dog Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation established in 2003, is a legally registered charity in Thailand, the United States, Australia, the UK, France and Holland. Our mission statement is to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Asia, resulting in better lives for both the animal and human communities, to create a society without homeless animals, and to ultimately end animal cruelty. John Dalley, co-founder and president, is available for interview.

For more information please visit www.soidog.org or www.facebook.com/SoiDogPageInEnglish

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