Free-roaming dogs in Nepal: demographics, health and public knowledge, attitudes and practices.
In Nepal, most dogs are free to roam and may transmit diseases to humans and animals. These dogs often suffer from malnutrition and lack basic health care. Minimal information is available about their demographics and about public attitudes concerning dogs and diseases. We carried out a study in Chitwan District (central Nepal), to collect baseline data on free-roaming owned dog demographics, assess knowledge, attitudes and practices of dog owners concerning dogs and rabies, evaluate rabies vaccination coverage and anthelmintic treatment of dogs, measure dogs' response to rabies vaccination and assess dog health through body condition scores and parasites. We conducted household interviews with owners of free-roaming female dogs (n=60) and administered dogs with rabies vaccination and anthelmintics. Dog owners regularly fed free-roaming dogs but provided minimal health care; 42% of respondents did not claim ownership of the dog for which they provided care. We collected skin, faecal and blood samples for parasite identification and for measuring rabies virus-specific antibodies. Ninety-two per cent of dog owners were aware of the routes of rabies virus transmission, but only 35% described the correct post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) following a dog bite. Twenty-seven per cent of the dogs had measurable rabies virus-specific antibody titres and 14% had received anthelmintics in the previous year. Following rabies vaccination, 97% of dogs maintained an adequate antibody titre for ≥6 months. Most dogs appeared healthy, although haemoprotozoans, endoparasites and ectoparasites were identified in 12%, 73% and 40% of the dogs, respectively. Poor skin condition and parasite load were associated. Seventy-four per cent of the females had litters in 1 year (mean litter size=4.5). Births occurred between September and February; we estimated 60% mortality in puppies. We concluded that vaccination coverage, PEP awareness and anthelmintic treatment should be emphasized in educational programmes focussed on animal welfare, veterinary and public health.