Viral diseases in pets and stray animals prevail as winter prolongs in Sikkim

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With the sudden dip in mercury since December in Sikkim till now, the weather has been rough, making it difficult not only for humans but for animals too!

On an average, every year, during this season, dogs, cats, livestock and other animals die due to cold weather. Many strays lose their lives after being overridden by vehicles while they hideout under the tyres. Further, during the month of December to February the maximum cases of viral diseases in animals like cough, cold, parvovirus and canine distemper, are reported. Though parvovirus and canine distemper can be avoided if pets are vaccinated on time; this, however doesn’t guarantee that the pet will not at all acquire these infectious diseases, but lowers the risk. The only solution is precaution. Veterinary Officer, Dr Basant Ramudamu, states that generally during winters, out of 70-80 cases on a day at the state Veterinary Polyclinic in Gangtok, 2-5 are reported on infectious diseases.

A glimpse of the livestock census conducted in Sikkim in 2012 has some interesting figures on our animals:

Ref: Animal Husbandry Department, Government of Sikkim


So, with such a huge number of domesticated animals, how does a state cope up with their wellbeing, as well as mitigating any form of transmission of diseases and viruses?

With recent cases of Coronavirus, there has been an increasing concern on proper awareness and mitigation of diseases from animals to humans. A domesticated pig was consumed by a family in the village of Tambutar, East Sikkim, and all of them had to be rushed to a hospital in Siliguri, West Bengal, where they were diagnosed being infected with tapeworms. Often, we forget to take proper care of the animals, which in turn comes to affect humans. This is a small example. However, there are a range of diseases that find its way in the cold Himalayan winters of Sikkim. Zoonotic diseases are one such type that are transmitted to both, animals and humans.


The most common disease that mostly affects the animal health workers or veterinarians is Brucellosis. It affects the reproductive tract which causes abortion and also tuberculosis. There may be some cases of tuberculosis also being transmitted from dry and uncooked/half-cooked meat. Toxocariasis or worm infestation are commonly transmitted from faeces of dogs and cats or undercooked giblets. Taenia solium or cysticercosis also commonly known as pork tapeworm, is another case usually reported in humans, mostly transmitted from pork meat, while taenia saginata commonly known as beef tapeworm is transmitted from cattle meat.

Zoonotic diseases that can commonly be transmitted from dogs includes rabies, which is the most dreadful disease caused by a virus most commonly transmitted by bite wound commonly dog bite.

“However, due to continuous effort of the state Animal Husbandry department and it fully dedicated Sikkim Anti Rabies and Animal Health Unit, which carries out statewide free rabies vaccination campaign every year the rabies case in human has drastically been controlled”, informs Dr Ramudamu and adds, “deaths due to rabies are rarely reported these days, for which the hard effort of all the field veterinarians and staff are praiseworthy”.

Many ringworms or skin diseases are also transmitted. Another common condition commonly transmitted to humans from fish is diphyllobothriasis or diphyllobothrium latum, a tapeworm transmitted from fishes. It is transmitted by consumption of raw or uncooked fish or mostly through dry fishes.

Doctors suggest regular check-up of pets and livestock with deworming at regular intervals as the only solution to these problems.
For humans, winter at least brings fancy winter wears, hot cups of coffee, snacks, holidays and other such pleasures of life. But, for the animals, its no fun. Experts state that the chill in the Himalayan air means that the animals need to protect themselves from harsh winter winds and chills, to survive and remain healthy. And being a parent to these animals, one has to hold the responsibility of giving them warmth and healthy living conditions to cruise pleasantly during these rough weather conditions.

For 20 years old Preeti Gurung, not knowing her pet’s body proved fatal with her losing the only pet she had -a Pomeranian who suffered from tuberculosis. Just like people, animals’ cold tolerance can vary based on their coat, body fat, activity level and health. One should be aware of their pet’s tolerance for cold weather and adjust accordingly.
“You will probably need to shorten your dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect you and your pet from weather associated health risks”, advises Dr Ramudamu.

Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking during colder season and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered/ cold ground. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and maybe more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets. It is therefore advised by experts to consult a veterinarian particularly in a mountainous Himalayan region like Sikkim with often fluctuating temperatures.

It is a common sight in Sikkim to see stray animals being rammed by vehicles especially in parking spaces. Stray animals tend to snuggle and sleep under the cars, especially under a warm vehicle engine, which can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it’s deadly. Ensuring that one looks under the vehicle and checks before starting the car engine, banging on the hood and honking before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood are some primary concerns one needs to take care.

All animals feel cold, be it a dog, cat, bird, bear or rabbit. We may not be able to do much for animals in the wild, but for those living with us, we can at least make the surroundings bearable. It’s better to protect the pets and livestock from being exposed to the chill, lest they catch cold. The shelter should be spacious enough for the animal to move around, but it shouldn’t be too big that it fails to retain heat. The door of the pet house or livestock shed should always be placed in the direction opposite to the prevailing winter winds. As for pets dogs and cats there are a range of sweaters and jackets easily available in pet shops. If one has birds, rabbits or other caged pets, simply cover their cage with a shawl/gunny bags. This will keep the insides of the cage warm. Also make sure that one leaves a little space exposed, allowing them to breathe. Dogs and cats are blessed with thick fur that keeps them warm naturally. Hence, avoid trimming their coat in winter. It’s best not to let cat or dog sleep on the cold floor during winter.

The prolonged contact to the cold floor can make them sick. Beddings and mattresses for pets come in various shapes and sizes. It’s not always that one needs to buy these. Any discarded woollens and blankets can also be reused as mattress and pet blankets.

“Some kind people have even donated baby blankets which their children do not need anymore. We have distributed it among the strays of our neighborhood. If not a proper home, they at least have a warm bed to sleep through winter”, informs Bharati Gurung, a member of The Guardians, Sikkim, an animal welfare NGO.

Changing the drinking water for pets often is essential. Always check that the water in pet bowl or bottle is fresh and unfrozen. One can also always fill a bucket of water in place outside their homes for the strays to drink.
Animals are also prone to gastritis, cold and diarrhoea during winters, hence, always change their meal with a fresh one and do not add in the left over previous meal. Make sure that the pets are well dewormed and vaccinated against parvovirus, canine distemper and rabies. These diseases may prove fatal during winters.

It is advisable to bathe pets less frequently, maybe fortnightly that to in a good sunny day during winters. Or else just a dry bath with dry bath kits easily available in the market or pet shop will suffice. Avoid use of hairdryer. However, in case you happen to use it, then cover it with a towel and apply, never expose direct heat.

For overall safety and well being of both, humans and animals, one must always take preventive measures seriously, for as the saying goes, “precaution is better than cure”.

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