Saturday, 20 August 2011

Will dogs stop biting?

This refers to news story Dog scare forces musalees to walk in groups, with lathis by M. Hyderi (GK 06-08-2011). It has again highlighted the difficulties faced by the public due to this menace.

Sterilization technique: Serious efforts are on throughout the world to develop non-surgical, cheap and easily accomplished techniques for controlling fertility in dogs. Use of chemicals, hormones, immunological strategies and contraceptives are some of them. However, all of these techniques are accompanied by one or more problems. They lead to temporary loss in fertility (therefore need to be repeated frequently), have lower efficacy rate, are suitable for some age groups only and have several side effects and complications in the animals subjected to these protocols. Consequently, the traditional surgical sterilization is still the best available option and therefore applied in more than 90% in highly populated cities and in developing countries. The most important advantages of this technique are its 100% guarantee of permanent sterilization and modification of undesired behaviours in dogs. 

Sterilization cost: Surgical sterilization generally named as castration, spaying or neutering requires trained veterinarians, an infrastructure and proper equipment. It involves complete removal of testes and ovaries and is performed under general anaesthesia. Antibiotics and pain killers are administered for 3 to 5 days. These dogs are also routinely injected a dose of Antirabies vaccine and monitored by a qualified veterinarian during the postoperative period. Afterwards they are released in the same areas from where they were rescued before surgery. The cost of this operation per dog estimated by Animal Welfare Board of India a few years ago is Rs.445/. Due to the escalation of the costs over the years, Rs. 500/- per dog may currently be considered reasonable. Thus the expenditure for sterilization of required 70% of the animals (i.e 70,000 dogs of Srinagar city with rough estimate of 1.0 lac dogs) would arrive at a figure of 3.5 crore. Adding the cost of infrastructure and wages for the workforce (approximately 0.5 crore), the total expenditure would be around 4.0 crore. 

 Bodies of dead dogs which were killed illegally in March 2011
Animal Welfare Board of India appears ready to provide its 50% share therefore the state government is expected to spend a total of Rs 2.0 crore for the project. Considering the large number of stray dogs in Srinagar and half of the financial year already over, if only half of the dogs are sterilized during the current year, the amount to be allocated by the state government would be Rs 1.0 crore. After the number of the dogs is reduced to the required level in a period of 1 to 2 years period, it would be easier and quite cheap to just maintain the required number in future. Surgery although appearing costly initially but is a lifelong solution and hence may be more cost efficient over time. It is surprising to note that on one hand the state government has made it a policy to sterilize stray dogs (as is done everywhere) and on the other hand money required for initiation of this important and urgent mission is not earmarked despite the fact that hundreds and thousands of crores are being spent every year.

Establishment of ponds for stray dogs: The directions of the honourable judges to catch the stray dogs and put them in ponds (to be established on the outskirts of the city) are aimed at giving immediate respite to the public. The efforts to establish such a pond appears to have been initiated by the Srinagar Municipality in Ganderbal district. However, considering some basic facts related to the canine behavior and their disease epidemiology, this exercise would add to the problems rather than reducing them. The canines are territorial animals and therefore live within a specified area and do not allow dogs of other areas to enter their jurisdiction easily. Territorial behavior in domestic dogs reminds us of their wolf-like ancestors. Once confined together in a pond, they will start fighting and injuring each other. The stress of confinement, injuries and their consequences would decrease their natural immunity and may lead to outbreaks of devastating diseases like mange, maggot infestation of the inflicted wounds and Rabies. Such animals cannot be caught repeatedly for treatment and their continued confinement will defeat all efforts to manage their diseases. 

Consequently serious animal welfare issues are likely to crop up. Additionally the attending staff would also be exposed to the threat of contracting several zoonotic (spread from animals to man) diseases. Location of the ponds in outskirts of the city may also invite more frequent visits of the wild animals into the human population and increase their attacks to the human and domestic animals. On top of it all, the expenditure of maintaining thousands of dogs (by way of providing food, watch and ward, monitoring of disease outbreaks etc) would be many times the cost of sterilization along with postoperative care for 4 to 5 days (the strategy followed in all states of the country). We have not been able to spend for sterilization alone, how can we spare millions for the feeding and maintenance of such a large number of canine populations in addition to sterilization?
The million dollar question: “Will a dog stop biting once sterilized?: Spaying and neutering of the dogs is an often suggested remedy for various behavior problems. “Testosterone acts as a modulator that makes dogs react more intensely. When an intact (uncastrated) dog decides to react to something, he reacts more quickly, with greater intensity and for a longer period of time.” Neutering the male dog removes testes, the source of circulating testosterone. Testosterone has the effect of modulating sexually dimorphic behaviors as well as aggressive or reactive behaviors. Most extensive surveys on the effects of castration on dogs have come up with the findings that roaming is reduced in 90% and aggression in 60% of the cases. Sterilized males usually become less aggressive. Due to the maternal instinct of the bitches to protect their young ones, they become aggressive when approached. Spaying will prevent the cycling of estrogen and progesterone, which may prevent associated behaviors. Spayed bitches will not have to protect the pups hence are less likely expected to attack the passersby. Therefore, the biting instances by the dog’s consequent to sterilization must reduce considerably. It has been noticed that nonsurgical techniques unlike surgical sterilization, do not reduce the undesired behaviours of the dogs.

(Dr. Mujeeb Fazili is Associate Professor Surgery, Teaching Veterinary Clinical Complex, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, SKUAST-K. Feedback at

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