The Public Health Implications of Urban Dogs


Health problems due to the increasing urban population of pet and stray dogs are discussed.

There is an ever growing awareness of the impact that urban pet and stray dogs have on the public's health and general well being. During the early 1970s, cities all over the United States held public hearings to review their animal control ordinances; articles documenting and qualifying the problem appeared in newspapers and the scientific literature.'-IO The 1974 Science Year Annual of World Book and the 1974 Nature Science Annual of Time-Life Books each had a major article on the urban dog problem. Bills have been introduced into the U.S. Senate and various state assemblies to provide funds or loans to municipalities for the establishment and/or construction of nonprofit spaying and neutering clinics. There is a growing body of literature debating the value of such clinics, 11-7 which is of interest to the medical community, for in at least 47 per cent of the cities and counties around the country animal control is the province of the health department."8 When the National League of Cities surveyed the country's mayors, they asked "What do citizens most frequently complain about?" Over 60 per cent of the mayors ranked "dogs and animal control problems" number one. 19 Although part of this awareness may be generated by the recent publicity itself, it is probable that there are, in addition, ecological changes taking place in urban dog populations that have increased the negative interactions between man and dog. All of these changes were caused by man; man has always been a major ecological component in dogs' evolution and survival. Dogs, in turn, have been part of man's ecology; for example, dogs aid many in facing the isolation and fears of urban life.2022 For others, dogs may be a source of anxiety and annoyance. Non-owners are for the
Dr. Beck is Director, Bureau of Animal Affairs, New York City Department of Health, New York, New York 10013. This article was accepted for publication August, 1975.

most part a disenfranchised majority with no social organization or industry to support their views. In contrast, dog owners have kennel clubs and pet food companies which have helped to make dogs a pervasive part of our society.

Sources of Data
The information used in this article is derived from the author's research on the ecology of urban dogs in Baltimore (1968 to 1972)' and St. Louis (1972 to 1974) and from a general review of the literature. This information has been synthesized in an attempt to explain the nature of the public health relationship that now exists between the urban dweller and the companion dog population.

Population Size and Interaction
There is no truly accurate census of the pet population, although the popular press and humane societies frequently draw attention to a recent pet population explosion. Some quantitative evidence comes from animal shelters around the country which report an increase in the numbers of dogs handled. The number of dogs registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) has nearly doubled since 1963, with over 1.1 million dogs being registered in 1972. Although this population represents less than 4 per cent of the total pet population, it serves as an indicator of growth. Another indicator, dog food sales, has increased over 300 per cent since 1965, averaging an annual increase of 13 per cent. Over $2 billion worth of dog food was sold in 1973.23 It is now estimated that 38 per cent of all U.S. families own at least one dog, i.e., there is one dog for every 5.9 persons.' Pet owners are more likely to live in single family dwellings or larger apartments and have higher median incomes than non-owners.2' Indeed, only 8 per cent of each year's "puppy crop" comes from families whose mean annual income is less than $8,000.25

because it is usually undiagnosed. as compared with 32 per cent for the period 1966 to 1970. Any increase in the dog population must lead to increased interactions between people and dogs. Host specificity may not manifest itself until after infection is established.S. indeed it is almost impossible to breed wormfree animals. only 4 per cent of the rabid animals were dogs. nonimmune individuals.28 Rabies is another example of a dog contact problem.mostly of new.S.75 pound) per day for a large dog.. 43. contrary to popular belief..e.5 per cent.48 In St. the annual destruction rate of dogs is estimated to be at least 12 per cent. There are 403 cases described in the literature.26 Anecdotally. 13 times as many Siberian huskies. beagles. . but increased 33 per cent between 1965 and 1970. 59 per cent of the victims were less than 20 years old. No. Louis City. over 40 per cent of dogs sampled at the pound had titers to leptospirosis.. the stray dog is not the source of the biggest bite problem. the population is becoming composed of larger dogs. The numbers of smaller breeds. 65. 36. Young animals are more bite-prone33 and are more susceptible to disease and worm infestation. and dachshunds. Thus.4 per cent of all biters had an average adult weight of at least 50 pounds. Less quantitatively. which is important 1316 AJPH DECEMBER. rabies adds greatly to the trauma and expense of dog bite injury. with over 60 per cent of the population under 2 years of age. the mean age of impounded dogs was only 2.37-4 It is not possible to estimate prevalence of this disease in man. This trend may be motivated by the public's awareness of urban crime and the hope that larger dogs will warn and protect their owners. In St.Although many believe that there is a rise in the dog population. over 15 per cent of the estimated dog population was destroyed by the pound annually. indicative of present or previous disease. it is possible that the recent pet population increase has leveled off. the number of dogs being shipped for sale has been declining. registered between 1963 and 1972 by the AKC was almost unchanged. i. predominantly as a result of being bitten by pet dogs. except when the larvae are observed in the eye. Conversely.8 In Baltimore from 1960 to 1970. poodles. The U. and automobile traffic killed nearly 10 per cent yearly.32 Increased dog-human contact may be expected to lead to an increased incidence of 'other diseases shared by man and dog. In both Baltimore and St. As an example. 6.34 A young population is composed.6 per cent under 2 years. there is evidence from a 5 per cent sample of all households in two California counties that the pet dog population has been declining since 1968. T. Biomass of the Population Another ecological parameter that appears to be changing is the biomass of the population. Indeed. and most rabies occurs in wildlife. ."7 In St. the dog bite rate was fairly constant until 1965.758 doses of rabies vaccine in the U. Such fecal contamination is a public health problem that would not be tolerated from any other mammalian source. California.36 Dog worms are more than a veterinary problem.000 people received 475. However. These counterparts will infect man. although 71 per cent of the 937 rabid animals reported were skunks. indicating that. the roundworms Ascaris lumbricoides and Toxocara canis. However. toxocariasis or visceral larva migrans." In St. A parasite's inability to complete its life cycle should not be equated with lack of infectivity. and dog bites were the only animal injuries to increase consistently.2 In Baltimore.3 years. over these years. Bernards. but averages 340 gm (0.g. Fecal output varies. e. 12 .4 years with only 43. but in 1971. the household dogs of Alameda County. reported bites increased 78 per cent while the human population decreased 3. That means that the streets and sewer systems of New York City will receive over 187 tons of feces daily from its estimated one-half million dogs as larger dogs become more common. about 15 per cent of bites are from strays. Larger dogs also inflict more serious bites. leptospirosis is traditionally listed as a disease of animalrelated occupations. 11 times as many St. Louis.. the author has observed that pet stores and animal shelters sell their larger breeds as fast as they become available. pound dogs under 1 year were nearly 30 per cent infected. and 10 times as many malamutes. 1975. Louis. but dog bite was responsible for 58 per cent of the incidents requiring vaccination for possible exposure to rabies.8 Since 1960 in Baltimore. Louis. 6 times as many Great Danes.29 30 For instance. and this may be related to an increase in the number of reported bites. By contrast. thus it is not surprising that diseases and injuries previously associated exclusively with occupations involving animal contact are occurring in the general population. e. 63 per cent of the cases were associated with dogs. canis is the commonest parasite causing pathology in man. and several human cases occurred in the area.3" In 1972. In New York City. the disease is too common for single case reports and is too rare for many large series.g. Although it is widely believed that rabies in domestic dogs is under control. Louis." Almost all dogs are born with Toxocara infestation. dogs accounted for 95 per cent of all animal bites. the proportion of reported bites from strays has also been increasing and now represents about 24 per cent of the total. Many human parasites have animal counterparts. although older groups averaged only 8 per cent infected. although they may not complete their life cycles. A younger animal population exposes humans to a greater risk of aberrant parasitism.g. as Brown46 notes " . from 1967 to 1968. Age Structure Nationally.33 in the evolution of the host-parasite relationship.3 and in New York. such as tick-borne typhus. Vol.. But increasing the biomass of the population also increases the waste output. skunks were responsible for only 2 per cent of the cases requiring human vaccination. the registration of the larger breeds showed marked increases: almost twice as many German shepherds. e. in Illinois.1 High mortality in a growing population means a lowering of the age distribution. over 35.6 per cent of all biters were classified as large by the person filing the report. in 1965 had a mean age of 4.6 times as many Doberman pinschers.

Harris. J. Ann.8 The bite injury problem can be expected to become more serious as people own larger dogs. Scientists January:10-19. R. Nonprofit Veterinary Service. Lobes. 28. B. 1974. Pract. Public Health. Schneider. 16 per cent in threes. J. Pet Food Institute Fact Sheet. Alternatives to Surgical Sterilization. M. 12.. IL. barking. Chicago. 164: 166-171. Vet. M. Chicago. J. 75-81. L. Calif. Lockwood. Mo. 59-65. especially guard dogs. 162:481-484. Animal Control Survey. Am. 16. Med. Washington. Med. Ecology of Unwanted and Uncontrolled Pets. 1973. Vet. Levenson. A. Science 185:903. Schneider. December. 9. J. J. B. Jr. A Case for Spay/Neuter Clinics. 4. 1970. and 37 per cent of the children bitten are bitten on the face.. About one-half of all dogs observed on the streets are in the company of other dogs. Leigh. Loring. and Kraus.. R. i. Rabies: A Rare Disease But a Serious Pediatric Problem. Chicago. York Press. Louis. Reefer.. 1974. 2. April. National League of Cities. M. 1973. 1974. 14. and disrupting trash are therefore more of a health problem than would be the case if dogs were solitary. Bull. 1973. Bancroft.. 9-year-old children are bitten each year. and Jochle. 1971. 1975. Pract. Pract. Community Service Department. J. and 5 per cent in fours.. D. Pediatrics 45:839-844. Vet. Q. MO. M. 1966. 34-35. 88:956-962. Faulkner. Free-Roaming Urban Pets. Rep. Vet. 1973. 1972. M.. A. The dog should not be considered a pest to expel from society. are common. 1974.bite rate is now about 500 bites per 100. 1956. Charles C Thomas. A. Feldmann. T. 18. M. 23. Larger dogs require more meat. Am. Osterud. A. American Veterinary Medical Association. 24.. The Dog: America's Sacred Cow? Nation's Cities 12(2):28-31. E. It is now time for urban dwellers as well to have a more balanced view of the man-dog relationship so that man and dog can live together in health and peace.1975. P. Dog Bites amontg Letter Carriers in St. 15. Staff Report. REFERENCES 1. The National League of Cities Research Report. Limitations of Spay/Neuter Clinics. Center for Disease Control. In view of these trends it is suggested that physicians give dog-related zoonoses a higher index of suspicion. A. and medical concern. 5. 19. Robinson.. 290:1378-1379. 6. and Holmes. R. Assoc. Am. November. B. especially younger animals. Chicago. 167:281-284. D. In Proceedings of the National Conference on the Ecology of the Surplus Dog and Cat Problem.. and DeHoff. 1974. 1974. of course. American Veterinary Medical Association. and Beck. 1973-1974. 90:267-269. N. Summary and Conclusions Dogs have gone from being benignly accepted as man's best friend to becoming a source of social. Vet. M. R. Beck. T. Society's tolerance of dogs permits the proximity of people that may lead to a bite-especially in the case of larger animals. J. R. DC. J. Public Health Rep. Assoc. and Pickering. 1972. L. pp.. 50:981-1000. 1970. Rep. disrupted trash encourages the breeding of houseflies and rats and greatly adds to the expense of trash removal. perhaps because a pet's real social group includes its owner. pp. 29. America's Mayors and Councilmen: Their Problems and Frustrations. P. L. In Proceedings of the National Conference on the Ecology of the Surplus Dog and Cat Problem. 166:481-486. Feldmann. 1974. Public Health Rep. Dog Bites-An Unrecognized Epidemic. J. Pets and Human Development. and Lockwood. Chicago. Socially facilitated behaviors. Canis Familiaris (Editorial). 25:568-585.4" Social Structure The social structure of dogs includes groups or packs. Y.. 1974. Competition with humans for food was apparently one reason for the destruction of dogs in China. Franti. Berzon. 10. Am.3 The same pattern is observed in New York. A..e. M. N. D. American Veterinary Medical Association. the dogs' freedom to roam. Med. A. 1975. American Veterinary Medical Association. 7:517-521. This change is probably related to an increase in the number of dogs. 90:262-267. Heiman.. Med. Baltimore. H. 2 per cent of all 5. behaviors initiated by an individual dog and mimicked by the group. 13. J.. The Ecology of Stray Dogs. Beck. Small Anim. J. J. W. which may aggravate the sensitive political problems related to shortages of food. H. Pinnas. Survey of Canine and Feline Populations: Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. The Problem of Urban Dogs (Editorial). Vet. and Oken. 25. Aspects of Pet Ownership in Yolo County. 1974.1' 35 In St. 3. C. Israel. Feldmann. and include pet ownership or contact as part of the patient's history. 79:777-785. 1974. R. 20. by exercising greater control over the size of the dog population. B. In fact. H. Atom. The unsafe aspects of livestock and wildlife populations have been made known to those in contact with them. In Proceedings of the National Conference on the Ecology of the Surplus Dog and Cat Problem. Assoc. Anderson. Intern. And. A. Djerassi. Health Serv. Pet Food Institute. L. Psychoanal. 22. Med. M. and appear to be better adjusted. the controls necessary to safeguard the public would also benefit the canine population. March. Planned Parenthood for Pets? Bull. Dogs that are under direct supervision or control are healthier.. 26 per cent in groups of two.000 people. 1973. pp.. Human Leptospirosis from Immunized Dogs. Staff Report. Louis. 21. Spay Clinics: The Other Side of the Story. In Proceedings of the National Conference on the Ecology of the Surplus Dog and Cat Problem. D. Beck. and Carding. J. 67-74. O'Keefe. The Ecology of Dog Bite Injury in St. Hoyt. A. pp 31-39. C. 27. but strictly. Cereghino. and Vaida. Behaviors such as chasing and biting people. C. B. 1973. Medical Costs and Other Aspects of Dog Bites in Baltimore. Med. D.. and their promiscuous defecation. Calif. URBAN DOGS 1317 . 11. Leptospirosis Annual Summary. Acad. 23-29. D. 1974. Med. and Carding. political. B. Beck.' About 2 per cent of all dog bites in St. It is estimated that far less than one-half of the bites are reported. 7. D. Spay Clinics: Boon or Boondoggle? Mod. The Psychology of the Pet Owner. with sporadic groups of 20 or more. Imperato. R. Feigin. The Relationship between Man and Dog. Assoc. 8. M. Springfield.. live longer. Minimal Cost. J. 1973. It is also time for the social and legislative forces of society to respond humanely. 29-34. J. L. Drenan. 1975. M. City of Kansas City. 17. Louis. Mod. D. 89:377-381. and the increased popularity of larger breeds. Observations on Overpopulation of Dogs and Cats. 1974. F. 26. Louis are attacks from more than one dog. like cats. J... M. Engl.

Tierney. F. Martin. H. F. 38. J. AAAS MEETING SET FOR BOSTON IN FEBRUARY "Science and Our Expectations: Bicentennial and Beyond" is the theme of the 142nd Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Am. H. P. and Kelly. Ophthalmol.. Otolaryngol... but also the application of science and technology and the social and ethical implications of such use. Otolaryngol. 46. 71:921-930. C. 1968. Age Resistance to Toxocara canis in Ascarid-Free Dogs.30. G. H. No Dogs in China. J. and medicine. The Geography of Ocular Toxocara canis.. 40. B. 1959. Res. 1971. California Department of Public Health. Some 180 symposiums will be presented on topics centered around three subthemes: Frontiers of Science. 42. For further information. 84:1078-1084. Peters. Martin.. and Welch. A. New York. L. DC 20036. 39. L. Terbrusch. Schnurrenberger. D. H. Calif. P. Am. Parrish. Trans. 1975.W. J. Public Health Rep. J. Assoc. 35. Schnurrenberger. 44. Am. and Lucas. 48.. 72:855-866. R. Gordon. 1776 Massachusetts Avenue. J. 143:962-964. Kinmond. H. Uses of Science. 1959. Zoographic and Demographic Analysis of Dog and Cat Ownership in Alameda Co. R. and Elassnar. An Intraretinal Nematode. Visceral and Cutaneous Larva Migrans. Epidemiology of Dog Bites. Beaver. Brown. Med. Gibson. 123:41-47. 43. and Hibbard.." and "Mapping the Grand Canyon. H. No. 47. Brobst. Am. Ophthalmol. Canine Ascariasis. Congenital Ascariasis in Gnotobiotic Dogs.. speakers will explore not only advances in research in various areas of science. Hynes Auditorium at the Prudential Center. Visceral Larva Migrans Due to Toxocara as a Cause of Eosinophilia. 32. or write to the AAAS Meetings Office. J. Washington. W. Vol. In 20 daily concurrent sessions. J. Public Health 62:422-426. Zinkham. J. H. Public Health Rep. Am. J. and who need assistance because of other disabilities. 1961. Tick-Borne Typhus (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever). Pets. J." "Toward a Human Scientist. M. a Source of Visceral Larva Migrans. P. to be held February 18-24. P. Pediatrics 36:521-522. see the November 14 issue of Science. C. Trop.. R. E." Science International. J. and Perspectives on Science. and Rose. Brown. Rabies Surveillance Annual Summary 1972. 65. Center for Disease Control. 1963. Greve.. Ann.. Berkeley. D. Ehrenford. Several thousand scientists are expected to attend the 7-day meeting in the Sheraton-Boston Hotel and the adjacent John B. Nematode Enophthalmitis. 7:182-191. Am. H. Ophthalmol. 34. Farber.. 6:343-344. Acad. F. 1965. S. 32:1185-1192. 1972. C. Public Health Rep. Trans. Public Health Rep. J. The AAAS meeting also will feature 10 public lectures by noted scientists on such topics as "Exploration of the Midatlantic Rift. J.. J. A.. D. 1969. R. Ophthalmol. 37.. D. Epidemiology of Rabies Vaccinations of Persons in Illinois. Am. 55:99-109. 31. Dorn. 84: 1069-1077.. Griesemer. Ocular Toxocara canis. Med. R. 1968. Snyder. June. H. 1971. C. Pediatrics 28:85-91.. C. 1970.. 216:1003-1007. R. 1967-1968. Rubin. will be an integral part of the meeting for the second consecutive year. J. J. Maryland. Vet. J. A. H. 36. H. B. M. and Pediatrics." "Income Distribution and Economic Equity in the United States. Hyg. Visceral Larva Migrans: Ten Years' Experience. M. Ped. H." "The Emergence of Biochemistry. 1950. 1965. 49. 1974. P. Clack. and Rose. R. Kaufman. Thomas Nelson and Sons. N. Johns Hopkins Med. and Mock. As a part of its new Project on the Handicapped in Science. AAAS will make this year's meeting fully accessible to people who are in wheelchairs. F. 74:891-903. E. 33. a major exhibition of scientific instruments and publications. Wilder. Wilkinson. 45. A. Vet. N. 41. G. Opthalmol. Meerdink. P. 1971. N. Epidemiology of Human Exposure to Rabid Animals in Illinois. Intraocular Toxocara. B. 1957.. E. D.. Animal Bites in a Large City-A Report on Baltimore. 6:166-170. engineering. C. 1969. 1318 AJPH DECEMBER. Berzon. R. Webb. Acad. 1957. Parasites. 12 . W. 1973. 74:328-332.. R. C. H. H. who have visual or auditory disabilities. in Boston. 1976.

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