The Health Risks Posed to Farm Dogs and Cats Laura McKirdy, MRCVS. Paragon Veterinary Group In the farming community, a lot of focus is put on the health risks to production animals. As a small animal vet working in a rural community, I have been asked to write an article to illustrate some of the risks posed to the dogs and cats that co-habit the farm environment. There is of course the obvious risk of physical injury from being around farm machinery and being kicked or squashed. The less obvious risks to farm dogs and cats include ingestion of poisons left around the farm; dogs will eat almost anything and might eat a dead or half dead rat or mouse that has been poisoned with rodenticide or eat the rat bait directly. Equally cats might catch a rat or mouse on the farm that has ingested poison. Farm animal drugs should never be used for treating farm dogs and cats. Drug dosages differ between species and some drugs are entirely unsuitable and can be fatal if given. It is always advisable to check with your vet before treatment. Leptospirosis is passed out of an infected host in the urine. This can be picked up by vulnerable unvaccinated dogs and can cause them to become very unwell. This is something that they can be vaccinated against yearly. However, many farm dogs are not routinely vaccinated. The belief is that they don’t come in contact with other dogs and thus are at a lower risk of catching diseases. In reality they are at an increased risk as their immune systems are so naïve that they would become very sick very quickly. The general public (and their dogs) use footpaths through farm land, thus walking their (potentially) unvaccinated, disease carrying dogs on the same land as the farm dogs. Foxes also carry leptospirosis and can be a source of infection for farm dogs. Salmonella, campylobacter and neospora can be the cause of abortions in cows. If afterbirth is eaten by dogs (if not disposed of properly and left lying around) it can cause them to suffer gut upset or become seriously unwell. Unneutered farm cats, particularly male cats will fight for territories; wounds often become infected and require veterinary treatment. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) are passed in saliva (from fighting or grooming); many feral cats will carry these viruses and can cause high morbidity and mortality. Cats can be effectively vaccinated against FeLV. Neutered farm cats have a much-reduced chance of contracting these viruses. Sheep wormer (particularly ivermectin based products) residue is passed out in the faeces, if eaten by farm dogs this can be toxic and can be fatal. Summary Farm dogs and cats can be a great asset to a farm, many farmers wouldn’t be without them, but it is worth sparing a thought for the potential risks they can be exposed to. Try to keep rat poison out of harms way, if it needs to be used at all. Clear away after births and always ask your vet before treating the cats and dogs. Get them vaccinated, wormed and neutered. It will be better for their health in the long term.
Published on Dec 17, 2012