Innovations in oral rabies vaccinations in recent years have found success in North America and Europe, with many dogs receiving the vaccine as a bait capsule inserted into dog food. It is applicable for both stray dogs and pets. However, in many developing countries, implementation of such a program is proving difficult, particularly in countries where subpopulations of dogs escape the parenteral vaccination process.

Despite potential under-estimation and under-reporting, the global burden of rabies is 59,000 deaths annually, with 95% of cases occurring in Asia and Africa, reports the World Health Organization. Of great concern is the fact that 99% of rabies transmission to humans is through infected dogs, disproportionally affecting the rural poor, particularly children under the age of 15.

Pet food industry has potential contribution

Although the cost of this type of oral vaccination is higher in than that of the parenteral vaccination, a two-pronged approach that combines elements of both can effectively target the affected dog populations and lead to the elimination of rabies globally. It is important for the pet food industry to recognize their potential contribution in such activities, particularly with respect to a reduction in the culling of dogs as a means to combat the virus.

Since the baits require specific flavoring – one that will attract stray, wild and pet dogs, but not other species – it is important for the pet food industry to deliberate on what they can offer as a solution to various developing countries, such as India, Morocco, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Brazil, among others. Further, recognizing that differences in local culture, food preferences and dog ecology means that there is no such thing as a universally successful bait can lead to linkages between large-scale rabies vaccination programs and pet food manufacturers in developing countries.

Although research continues to be under way and has been for over two decades now on the application of oral rabies vaccination, the pet food industry remains missing from the conversation. To start, the industry can focus on designing baits that dogs show a strong preference for: poultry, beef tallow, cheese and eggs.