Campaigners warn dog and cat meat trades are “perfect breeding ground” for next public health disaster

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A group of 135 dogs were rescued from dog slaughterhouses in Yulin, China, before the start of the dog meat festival, in June 2018.

Animal protection groups from around the world are urging governments across Asia to act urgently to permanently shut down “unsanitary and brutal dog and cat meat markets and trades”, amid growing global concern about zoonotic diseases and public health danger zones.

Member organisations from the Asia for Animals coalition – which includes Humane Society International (HSI), FOUR PAWS International and Change for Animals Foundation – say the dog and cat meat trades pose “a serious danger from the deadly rabies virus and other notifiable diseases, such as cholera, with dogs and cats often traded and slaughtered in the very same wildlife markets as wild animals who are the focus of Covid-19 concern”.

The rabies virus has been found in brain specimens of dogs traded for human consumption in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. There have also been historical reports in Vietnam and the Philippines of patients with signs of rabies infection who had been involved in preparing and eating dogs and cats who may have been infected.

Rescue of 39 dogs which were being transported for dog meat trade in India.

In a statement to the Dog Meat Free Indonesia coalition, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “There are reports that dog-meat markets have a higher rate of rabies than the general dog population, as people often sell dogs to the markets when they act sick; some of these sick dogs have rabies.

“Furthermore, there are at least three published reports of humans acquiring rabies from activities associated with the dog meat market, emphasizing that the risk is very real.”

International scrutiny following the Covid-19 outbreak has already led two cities in China, Shenzhen and Zhuai, to ban the dog and cat meat trade as well as the consumption of wildlife. China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs also recognised for the first time that dogs and cats are “companion animals who are not for eating”, and omitted them from the list of animals to be considered livestock.

HSI volunteers with one of the dogs rescued from a slaughterhouse in Yulin.

Kelly O’Meara, vice president of companion animals at HSI, said, “Across the globe, nations are united in a collective response to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, including calls to close wildlife markets that can act as a petri dish for zoonotic diseases.

“Within that context, it is only responsible for governments across Asia to also tackle the dog and cat meat trades that, while not connected to COVID-19, undoubtedly pose their own significant human health risks, such as the spread of trichinosis, cholera and rabies that kill tens of thousands of people every year. 

This is no time for complacency or turning a blind eye; the dog and cat meat trades need to be shut down with urgency.

“With hundreds of dogs at a time crammed onto trucks and driven across provincial and even international borders to filthy slaughterhouses and markets where these highly stressed animals are then displayed and slaughtered alongside myriad wild and domestic species, it’s easy to see how this trade is not only utterly brutal, but also the perfect breeding ground for the next serious public health disaster.

“New pathogens could jump to humans in a number of ways – a dog trader wounded during the day’s slaughter, a local consumer eating cross-contaminated dog meat bought at a nearly stall, or a tourist breathing in microscopic blood droplets as they sight-see in the market. This is no time for complacency or turning a blind eye; the dog and cat meat trades need to be shut down with urgency.”

Rescue of a dog being transported for dog meat trade in India

Cambodia’s government is also being urged to publicly dispel myths that dog meat has medicinal benefits, including the belief it can ward off viruses – including coronavirus.

Veterinarian Katherine Polak, with FOUR PAWS in South East Asia, says, “The proliferation of completely unfounded, unscientific misinformation about dog meat is really worrying, with physicians even recommending dog meat to patients to treat various ailments. While we completely appreciate that cultures and habits are not easily changed, the government has a responsibility to safeguard the health of the nation as well as comply with global animal welfare standards.

“In Cambodia, dogs are being bludgeoned and drowned in fetid drowning pits, with total disregard for rabies which is endemic across Asia, while the government continues to do very little to protect people or animals.”

Images by HSI

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