11.1 Keeping dogs healthy

For a dog to be healthy it will need:
  • a daily feed with enough nutritious food. A dog should eat meat, vegetables and cereals
  • a supply of clean water
  • a clean, dry place to shelter when necessary
  • regular exercise
  • vaccination protection against disease, such as distemper
  • regular checks for signs of external parasites such as fleas, ticks and mange mites
  • regular preventive treatments for internal parasites such as worms, and external parasites such as fleas, ticks and mites

11.2 Getting rid of external parasites

External dog parasites such as fleas, ticks and mange mites are usually treated by washing the dog with a special shampoo or treating the dog with a special chemical.

You should always follow the instructions on the label of the container of whichever treatment is chosen.

11.3 Planning and conducting a community dog treatment program

Providing regular preventive treatments for internal and external parasites can be difficult for dog owners. For communities, particularly where there are large numbers of dogs, it may be a good idea for these treatments to be done on a regular basis with all the community dogs being treated together. This makes the treatment cheaper and it lessens the chance of a clean dog being reinfected by a disease-carrying dog.

Planning and conducting regular dog treatment programs is one of the roles of the EHP and may involve working with veterinary surgeons (vets).

To conduct a successful community dog treatment program it will be necessary to follow the steps outlined below. The AMRRIC manual is also very helpful.

  1. Plan when the dogs will be treated.
    Plan (decide beforehand) when the dog treatments should be done over the year and mark the dates on the calendar/year planner.  If a veterinary service is to be used, the EHP will need to organise dates that suit both the community and the vet.

    Arrangements will need to be made well before each dog treatment session to make sure that the proper chemicals and equipment are available for each dog treatment.  It is also important that the session does not clash with special community events.
  1. Get the community involved. 
    The success of a dog treatment program in a community will depend upon the cooperation of everyone.  This will happen only if people understand why the treatments are necessary and how they will be carried out.

    To get this cooperation it is important to educate people about the importance of dog treatment and tell them about the planned program.  People need to be told:
    • the types of external parasites which can infect a dog's skin and hair and how its health is affected
    • how these parasites can cause disease in humans (zoonosis)
    • the type of treatment which will be used and how the dogs should improve after treatment
    • that the chemical when used correctly will not harm the dog, humans or the environment
    • why it is important that all the dogs should be treated at the same time
    • when the community dog treatment is to be done
    • that a dog treatment involves everyone in the community.  It is especially important for all dog owners to be present with their dogs
The EHP will need to plan how and when he/she will conduct the education activities

Top of Page

It is a good idea to use education materials such as posters, flipcharts and videos, to help explain why it is important to treat dogs and what will need to be done.  Arrangements to get these materials will need to be made.  The Environmental Health supervisor and the Environmental Health Program education staff will be able to help.

Dog treatment programs are best done every three months.  The EHP should organise education activities about 3 to 5 days before each planned treatment as this is likely to attract more people with their dogs.
  1. Put up reminder notices which tell people:
    • that there is going to be a dog treatment day(s)
    • when it will be held.  Check the date closer to the day to make sure the day and time are still suitable.  The plan may have been affected by a special community event which now will take place on the day for which the dog treatment was planned.  If this happens the dog treatment may have to be held the next day or put off for a week or so
    • that dog owners must be there to help with their dog(s)

    About 2 to 3 days before the dog treatment, these notices should be put up around the community so that everyone will see them.
  1. Make sure that all of the materials and equipment are available.
    Remind other people who are going to help of the time and date of the dog treatment.  This might be the EHP, EHP supervisor, an EHO, or other community members.
  1. Make sure that the dogs are handled properly.
    Each owner should be encouraged to bring their dogs to the treatment team.  Catching dogs is not the responsibility of the EHP.
    • The dogs should be handled gently and without fuss so that they do not become frightened

11.4 Managing the dog population

It is important for the health of the people in a community and for their dogs' health that the dog population is managed so that:
  • there are not too many dogs in the community
  • sick and injured dogs are properly cared for

Controlling dog numbers

Dog numbers in a community can be controlled by stopping the dogs from breeding, or by culling dogs (reducing their numbers). These two methods are discussed below.
  • Preventing dogs from breeding

    Dog breeding can be effectively controlled by desexing. Desexing means operating on the dogs so that they cannot have puppies. In females this is done by removing the womb (baby bag) and the ovaries (the place where the eggs are produced). In males, the testicles (balls) are removed.

    Desexing is preferable to culling as the animals are not harmed and recover quickly. Desexing may also help to change aggressive behaviour in dogs.

    Dogs can be desexed just after they become sexually mature. Desexing operations should always be done by a veterinarian (animal doctor).

    A dog's ability to breed can be also stopped for a short time by giving it an injection of a special drug.

    The EHP should discuss breeding control methods with the local EHO, the Environmental Health supervisor and/or the local veterinarian. These methods will need to be discussed with the Community Council and the other people in the community.
  • Culling dog populations

    Another way of controlling the number of dogs in a community is by culling them. To do this, certain dogs are put down (killed). However, the community and the dog owners must agree that it can be done and how it will be done.

    If it is decided that some of the dogs are to be put down then this job needs to be organised properly:
    • The owners of the dogs need to be spoken to and they must agree to the dogs being put down
    • The method of putting the dogs down must be agreed to
    • The date and time of the culling program must be set and the community told
    • Where the culling is to occur. Culling is a sensitive issue and should be done away from the community
    • If anybody from outside the community needs to be involved, they must be contacted and arrangements made for them to be present at the time the culling is to take place
    • After the dogs have been put down, arrangements have to be made for the disposal of their bodies. These should be buried in a deep hole at the rubbish tip or in another appropriate place. It may be wise to organise for the bodies of culled dogs to be disposed away from the community
AMRRIC’s publication “Conducting Dog Health Programs in Remote Indigenous Communities – An Environmental Health Practitioners Guide” provides a thorough explanation of how to manage dog populations in remote settings and all aspects of dog health. EHPs are strongly encouraged to use this manual when planning any dog health program.

Top of Page

Sick dogs

Sometimes in a community one or more of the dogs may be very sick. This could happen because:
  • they have not been fed properly and have become very weak and undernourished
  • they are suffering from a serious disease
  • they have been badly injured in an accident or a fight with other dogs
A very sick dog is an unhappy and miserable animal. Every effort should be made to see to it that dogs are cared for properly. If they get sick they should be treated if possible.

It is sometimes kinder to the animal to have it put down than to let it suffer day after day. Even though it is a very hard decision to make, people who own a really sick dog should be willing to consider having the dog put down.

The EHP may need to discuss this action with the owners of any very sick dogs.

Putting dogs down

There are three usual ways of putting dogs down:
  • They can be given a lethal injection
  • They can be gassed
  • They can be shot
Shooting a dog can be a messy way of ending its life and many Indigenous people would not allow this to happen. Giving a lethal injection to a dog or gassing it may be more acceptable to dog owners but requires more equipment and animal handling and sometimes specially qualified people.

If chemical injections are to be used, only certain people, such as veterinarians or EHPs (only in WA) with permits can administer the chemical.

Some communities will prefer the putting down to be done away from the community. The dogs are taken away in a caged trailer or utility, and put down somewhere else. This way, the people cannot see it happening.

For further information refer to your EHO.