Hunting hounds can potentially spread disease to other hounds and animals across the British countryside, according to research revealed by an animal welfare charity.
The independent report - Hunting with Hounds and the Spread of Disease, 2018 - uses research on disease spread over decades. It was commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports following the discovery of bTB in a pack of hunting hounds early in 2017. According to the charity: "Accumulated evidence in the study suggests overwhelmingly that hunting with hounds maintains and/or spreads several livestock parasites and pathogens that have a major economic impact on British farmers."
Now campaigners are highlighting this research ahead of the annual Lycetts Festival of Hunting being held today in Peterborough, saying the attendance of the packs of hounds is a major biosecurity threat.
According to the study: "Hounds used for hunting carry numerous infectious diseases which can be spread to livestock, other hounds, and even humans. The dogs often contract the diseases after being fed the carcasses of diseased livestock.
"Diseases spread by hunting hounds contribute to a substantial number of infections each year, costing the livestock and farming industries ‘millions’, as hunts regularly ignore ‘biosecurity’ measures which are designed to prevent disease spreading.
"At least 4,000 hunt hounds are euthanised by hunts each year, many around 6-10 years old, often because they are too ill to keep up with the rest of the pack. Studies suggest many of these will have diseases but post mortems are rarely done."
Chris Pitt, Deputy Director of Campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: Agricultural and country shows are a long-standing tradition and a part of country life, but research shows that they are basically a melting pot of disease which is leading to disaster for farmers and animal welfare.
"You've got hunting hounds from different parts of the country all mixing together. If even one of those dogs is carrying disease – which is highly likely – then the risk of it passing it to other dogs or livestock is also high. The disease then gets moved around the country and livestock dies, which is both a financial and welfare cost. Local hounds are then fed the carcasses – and the cycle continues.
"Anyone taking livestock to a show must follow basic biosecurity measures to ensure that their animals do not spread, or pick up, disease. There are question marks over how successful these measures are anyway, but evidence suggests that hunts take even less care with their hounds. Given the huge impact disease has on the countryside, it’s unbelievable that so little care or thought is being given to this problem."
Evidence also shows there are 'significant risks' of disease transmission to humans from animals (though it is lower than animal-to-animal disease transmission). This is a particular worry when it comes to children, because of their immature immune systems and poor standards of hygiene, and older people.
The lack of veterinary care received by hunting hounds, as well as their diet, and their freedom to roam move across farmland without biosecurity scrutiny, means the risks of catching diseases is higher from these animals than companion dogs.
Examples of diseases that can be spread from hunting hounds to humans include Salmonella, Toxoplasmosis, which can lead to serious problems for pregnant women, and Campylobacteriosis, a common cause of diarrhoea, fever and stomach pain, which can be carried by dogs without them showing any signs.
The study, Hunting with hounds and the spread of disease, by Professor Stephen Harris, BSc PhD DSc and Dr Jo Dorning, BSc PhD, is available online.
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