Like owner, like dog

Grossemy

In the 1980s, a weekly veterinary review inverted this popular saying for use as the title of a humorous column. “Like dog, like owner” was accompanied by a number of photos. In one, a dog suffering from nervous twitches was pictured alongside its owner, who clearly had the same problem. The second depicted a huge ball of hair next to a podgy man, while the third pictured an aggressive little pooch at the feet of an unpleasantly aggressive lady. Every veterinarian recognised these clients, and even perhaps themselves.

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Advantages of owning a dog

In an increasingly urbanised society, while being great companions, dogs do also have some inconveniences. First, though, let’s look at the advantages.

- The social benefits the dog can have, inducing people to talk, play and take an interest in it, which can have a positive impact in a family.

- The companionship dogs provide, which can be especially important for people who live alone.

- The relaxation that comes from walking, playing with and stroking a dog (studies have shown that a person’s heart rate slows down when petting a dog).

- The sense of security the dog provides the whole family in its role as guard and protector.

- The sense of responsibility that comes with owning a dog.

- The undeniable benefit the dog has on the education of children. Psychologists also use dogs to help young delinquents to find their place in society.

- The understanding and sympathy the animal seems to exude, which can sometimes cause people to think of them as humans.

- The sense of self-worth and fulfilment people might have when they show off their dog.

- The facilitation of social contacts in an increasingly individualised society where strangers no longer talk to each other. People out walking their dog are often more likely to exchange a few words with each other.

- The prestige people might feel because they own a given breed (although it is worthwhile wondering whether this is such a good thing, bearing in mind that dogs are not sports cars).

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Animal protection and legal issues

A new animal protection law has been passed in Austria codifying the rights of our favourite animals. Animals now have rights that owners have a duty to protect.

From a philosophical point of view, the intrinsic value of every life must be recognised on principle, independent of considerations with regard to usefulness. Besides the absence of suffering, a ‘successful’ animal existence also demands the application and achievement of the behaviour and development stages of the species in question.

While most owners are at pains to properly look after their animal companions and do not normally need laws to make sure they do it, the existence of a law of this kind is very reassuring.

Winkelmayer

Professor Rudolf Winkelmayer, Dipl.ECVPH Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
specialising in small animals Pachfurth (Austria)
www.winkelmayer.at/tierarzt/

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Risks for humans

All animals, including other humans, can pose a risk to human health and that includes dogs, which might occasionally bite people or pass on diseases, although such cases are relatively rare.

Bites

The mouth is a means of expression for dogs, but also a means of defence. Any dog that feels threatened is likely to resort to biting, even if it is normally gentle and docile. Owners therefore need to take some basic precautions, especially around unfamiliar children, who can startle their dog even when they do not mean to, causing it to snap in defence.

The prevalence of aggressive dogs that were originally bred for fighting – Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Bull Mastiffs, for example – on the streets of towns and cities is also a matter of great concern. At the same time, it is important to understand that it’s most often not the dogs that are at fault, but the owners who train their dogs to be aggressive. They need to be stopped and punished where necessary. Countries have their own laws and regulations, but dogs that are most likely to bite people, regardless of the breed, are often monitored closely by veterinarians and should undergo behavioural assessment and management.

Some countries have not yet passed laws to deal with “dangerous” dogs. It is not our intention to discuss the matter here, but simply to stress that dogs are not born dangerous, they are trained to be dangerous by dangerous breeders and owners.

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Zoonosis

A zoonosis is an infectious or parasitic disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals. It is important to know what these diseases are because of their health consequences. They involve bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. For example, Pasteurella is a genus of bacteria found in the dog’s mouth which will infest any bite wound, causing a severe, painful inflammation if the wound is deep enough and could eventually lead to an abscess with intense swelling. Because of this risk, which is linked to rabies – all but eradicated in some countries but still a problem in others – any bite wound must be cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with copious amounts of antiseptic.

Bite victims should also visit their doctor for appropriate treatment; this is of vital importance in countries where rabies is still endemic.

In extremely rare cases, dogs can also transmit Staphylococcus and diseases such as leptospirosis, (which dogs are vaccinated against as part of their routine vaccination programme) as well as tuberculosis, brucellosis and even leishmaniasis in tropical and subtropical areas.

Although benign, ringworm can be transmitted to humans from dogs. Ringworm is a skin disease occurring in small circular patches, caused by microscopic fungi. It does not always involve itching, but treatment is long for both dogs and humans.

Dogs can also pass on digestive parasites (worms) to humans through their faeces, which is why dogs should be kept well away from play areas for young children, such as sandpits.

Duties and inconveniences

Sharing your life with a dog is not always a bed of roses, of course. Would-be owners also need to consider the potential inconveniences before taking the decision to get a dog.

- Reduced flexibility and mobility because the dog needs to be taken into account at all times, including weekends and holidays. Some people realise this too late and end up abandoning their dog when the holiday season comes round.

- The expense involved in caring for a dog, including food, vaccination and other expected and unexpected medical costs.

- The time a dog demands.

- The hygiene issues that come with having a dog in the family.

- Potential problems with the neighbours. Every owner can expect to have a run-in with the neighbours at least once in their life.

- The family problems that can come with separation, divorce, illness or death.

- The risks for others who may be afraid of dogs or who the dog may be afraid of if they are rough with it without realising. The result may be a nasty bite, even if the dog is normally very docile.

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