Contemporary farm operations bear little resemblance to their ancestral roots. But little has changed for the farm cats and dogs that catch rodents, herd livestock, keep predators at bay and warn residents when visitors pull into the yard.
Many of these working animals are also family pets, but some aren’t getting the preventative veterinary care needed to keep them — and their people — from harm, says Karen Sheehan, a small animal veterinarian with Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at the University of Saskatchewan.
The problem is that sick pets may spell trouble for people. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and others with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to diseases passed from pets to people. In addition to serving as pet-tohuman vectors of several varieties of worms and diarrhea-inducing bacteria, the World Health Organization (WHO) says dogs are the zoonotic (animal to human) link in about 99 per cent of human rabies cases.
While North American cases of rabies are rare, localized outbreaks occur. By July 2016, Saskatchewan identified 16 cases, including one in a cow and one in a cat. “That’s almost double the number of positive rabies cases as in 2014,” notes Sheehan. With farm pets more likely to encounter common carriers like skunks and bats, vaccination is essential, especially since infected pets put farm livestock at risk.
Sheehan’s three-pronged approached to farm pet wellness? Vaccinate, spay/ neuter and know your pets so you can monitor their health and habits.
The core inoculation for dogs includes rabies and four viral infections, including distemper and parvovirus, a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease of the intestines. The core vaccine for cats immunizes against rabies, two upper-respiratory viruses and panleukopenia (feline distemper). The latter can wipe out litters of kittens.
“Cats and dogs can contribute to livestock health by controlling predators and pests such as coyotes, mice and rats,” says Tamara Hofstede with Bayer Animal Health. “While dogs and cats don’t share many diseases with livestock, they can create risk if they carry disease. These include parasitic diseases such as tapeworm, viral diseases like rabies and bacterial diseases like streptococcus.”
Because of their interaction with livestock and wild animals, all farm pets should be vaccinated, adds Sheehan. Tattoos and microchips will help farmers keep pet vaccination records straight. Since cats and dogs require different inoculations and younger pets need more frequent boosters, it’s good to set up a vaccination routine. If you’re not sure how to get that started, ask your veterinarian. “Your large animal vet may not do the work but they will know who you should talk to,” she says.
Spay and neuter
Unplanned litters of dogs and cats may present a significant pet management issue for farmers. “Male dogs and cats, which are not neutered, roam and are at a higher risk of spreading disease, getting hit by cars and sustaining injuries related to fights,” explains Sheehan. Kittens can also attract predators and wandering packs of feral dogs create human, pet and livestock safety issues.
The problem is so serious in rural Saskatchewan that two of the four free spay and neuter clinics the University of Saskatchewan will sponsor in 2016, will be in held in rural areas.
Farmers concerned about pet overpopulation can also consider adopting a stray, says Deanna Thompson of Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS). For many shelters, the “right fit” for re-homed dogs includes access to food, water, indoor shelter and attention.
AARCS’s Barn Buddies program (for cats not suited to a home placement) requires adoptees to provide access to food, water and shelter with heat. Food and water are critical because that keeps these cats in the area you want them to hunt, says Thompson.
All shelter animals are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and tattooed or micro-chipped. Last year, AARCS found homes for 1,175 dogs and 1,055 cats.
Know your pet
Early signs of disease are often evident in a farm dog or cat’s behaviour, says Sheehan. Behavioural changes may signal something is wrong with your pet since illness or pain can make an animal seek or avoid contact with people and other pets.
And while it’s easy to spot porcupine quills, cuts and bruises and lameness, other physical signs of illness or disease are not so easy to spot with farm pets such as diarrhea and fecal worms. FF
A well-trained dog is a safer, happier dog
“You can never have a dog that’s too well-behaved or too good to live with,” says trainer Peter Luhoff of Absolutely Stirling Dog Training. Based in southern Alberta, Luhoff and his wife Lorina run a residential training program for dogs.
About half of their trainees are purebred dogs headed for the competitive circuit. The rest are trained for life as security dogs or pets, including farm dogs, which often take on both roles. They’ve also trained border collies to work with livestock.
A growing number of dog owners hire professional trainers because they don’t know how to fix problems with behaviour, says Luhoff. “If you’re not sure how to fix your car, you go to a mechanic. It’s the same for help training your dog.”
Too many dog owners excuse their dog’s unwanted behaviours, especially if they don’t happen all the time. “The behaviours make them uncomfortable, but they don’t realize they have a real problem until someone complains.”
By then it may be too late. The Canada Safety Council says there are about 460,000 dog bite incidents a year. In 2013, State Farm reported $104 million in insurance payouts from 3,700 Canadian dog bite claims.
A farm dog that chases livestock or traffic, traps farm visitors in vehicles or won’t heed simple commands may never prompt an insurance claim. But dog owners can expect compliance from a well-trained canine, regardless of the breed, insists Luhoff.
“It’s really about who’s in charge,” he says. “Once you set some black and white guidelines, the dogs like it.”
Absolutely Stirling Dog Training www.farmforum.ca/dogtraining Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society www.farmforum.ca/aarcs