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Population dynamics and health status of free-roaming dogs in Bhutan

Rinzin, Karma (2015) Population dynamics and health status of free-roaming dogs in Bhutan. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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In 2009 a capture-neuter-vaccinate-release (CNVR) programme commenced in Bhutan to control the dog population and to reduce the number of cases of rabies in humans and other animals. Limited understanding of the community’s attitudes towards dog population control and the population dynamics of the free-roaming dog population in Bhutan motivated the study reported in this thesis.
Household surveys were undertaken in six Dzongkhags to determine the knowledge, attitudes and practices of the community towards dog population control and to describe the demographics and management of owned dogs. Approximately 90% of the Bhutanese community believed that stray dogs were a problem to society and 77% believed they presented a threat to human health. Most participants (84%) were in favour of dog population control with birth control being the preferred method. A need to develop educational programmes on rabies and the dog population specifically targeting farmers and women from rural areas was identified. The total owned dog population was estimated at 71,245 with 24.4% of the households in the urban areas and 40.8% of the households in rural areas owning dogs. Forty percent of dog owners did not confine their dogs. Based on the number of owned dogs and the ratio of owned to stray dogs presented to the CNVR clinic, the stray dog population was estimated at 48,379.

The population characteristics of both owned and stray dogs that were presented to CNVR clinics from 01 July 2011 to 30 June 2013 were described. More than half (53.3%) of the dogs presented to the CNVR clinic were free-roaming dogs, with comparable numbers of males and females presented. Although pregnant bitches were seen throughout the year, more pregnancies were observed from September to December.

Field population survey undertaken in the main towns of six Dzongkhags to estimate the programme’s coverage in January and February 2012 showed overall CNVR coverage of 52% ranging from 32% in Bumthang to 72% in Samdrup Jongkhar. Field population survey was undertaken in Thimphu city to estimate the size of the free-roaming dog population and to assess the health status of dogs. The free-roaming dog population in Thimphu Municipal area was highest in June 2011 at 6,033 (95% CI 5,644 – 6,430), prior to which there had been no CNVR campaign for 15 months. From July 2011 to September 2014 the free-roaming dog population size remained relatively constant (range 5,765 to 5,949 dogs) as CNVR campaigns were regularly carried out. Neutered dogs had a significantly lower prevalence of antibodies to canine distemper virus (44.2%) and canine parvovirus CPV (4.0%) than entire dogs (52.9 & 18.4%, respectively) (P < 0.01); and neutered dogs had significantly higher body condition scores than entire dogs (P < 0.01).

The studies presented in this thesis have demonstrated that the success of a CNVR programme will depend on the initial planning of the programme which includes assessing the size of the local dog population and continuous monitoring and evaluation of the programme. To effectively control the dog population in Bhutan and to address problems associated with free-roaming dogs, it is recommended that: regular CNVR programmes are carried out throughout the country; female dogs, especially during the breeding season, are specifically targeted; programmes are monitored regularly; community participation in programmes is encouraged; and legislation on responsible dog ownership is implemented.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor: Robertson, Ian
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