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Open Access Research article

Domestic dog demographic structure and dynamics relevant to rabies control planning in urban areas in Africa: the case of Iringa, Tanzania

Alena S Gsell1, Darryn L Knobel2, Sarah Cleaveland3, Rudovick R Kazwala4, Penelope Vounatsou5 and Jakob Zinsstag5*

Author Affiliations

1 Aquatic Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Wageningen, The Netherlands

2 Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

3 Institute for Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12, 8QQ, UK

4 Department of Veterinary Medicine and Public Health, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania

5 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland

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BMC Veterinary Research 2012, 8:236  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-8-236

Published: 5 December 2012

Abstract

Background

Mass vaccinations of domestic dogs have been shown to effectively control canine rabies and hence human exposure to rabies. Knowledge of dog population demography is essential for planning effective rabies vaccination programmes; however, such information is still rare for African domestic dog populations, particularly so in urban areas. This study describes the demographic structure and population dynamics of a domestic dog population in an urban sub-Saharan African setting. In July to November 2005, we conducted a full household-level census and a cross-sectional dog demography survey in four urban wards of Iringa Municipality, Tanzania. The achievable vaccination coverage was assessed by a two-stage vaccination campaign, and the proportion of feral dogs was estimated by a mark-recapture transect study.

Results

The estimated size of the domestic dog population in Iringa was six times larger than official town records assumed, however, the proportion of feral dogs was estimated to account for less than 1% of the whole population. An average of 13% of all households owned dogs which equalled a dog:human ratio of 1:14, or 0.31 dogs per household or 334 dogs km-2. Dog female:male ratio was 1:1.4. The average age of the population was 2.2 years, 52% of all individuals were less than one year old. But mortality within the first year was high (72%). Females became fertile at the age of 10 months and reportedly remained fertile up to the age of 11 years. The average number of litters whelped per fertile female per year was 0.6 with an average of 5.5 pups born per litter. The population growth was estimated at 10% y-1.

Conclusions

Such high birth and death rates result in a rapid replacement of anti-rabies immunised individuals with susceptible ones. This loss in herd immunity needs to be taken into account in the design of rabies control programmes. The very small proportion of truly feral dogs in the population implies that vaccination campaigns aimed at the owned dog population are sufficient to control rabies in urban Iringa, and the same may be valid in other, comparable urban settings.