Last week we celebrated International Dog Day. The internet was flooded with cute pictures of dogs and their fawning human parents. While all the pampering was very rightly deserved, the day also brought home the need to celebrate our very own Indian pariah dog. Also called Indies or Pyes, these street and community dogs are an integral part of our lives. But for decades, they have been shunned in the favour of pure foreign breeds. However, in the past decades, increasing awareness has allowed for more Indies to get off the streets and find homes. The hashtag #adoptdontshop has taken over social media, with celebrities taking up the cause of the indigenous breed of dogs.
Most people will tell you that an Indie is sturdier, which means less frequent visits to the vet. Since they are already acclimatized to local conditions, they don’t fall sick very often. However, this doesn’t mean that they are completely immune to illnesses. If you are planning to adopt an Indie, here are some things you should keep in mind.
It might be wise to go through an NGO rather than simply pick a puppy off the street. There are a sizable number of organisation across the country that are working to find homes for these little ones. They vaccinate the pups and ensure that they are healthy enough to find a home. If you are a first-time pet parent, and pick an Indie puppy off the street, you might not be able to gauge the illnesses it may come with.
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Indie puppies born on the streets are often susceptible to one of two fatal dog viral infections. Parvo viral infections cause diarrhoea and vomiting, and can turn lethal if not diagnosed and treated early. Canine distemper, on the other hand, shows up as nasal and ocular discharge with coughing and sneezing, is far more contagious among dogs, and even more difficult to treat with a mortality rate of close to fifty per cent.
Besides that, skin infections can also be present in puppies gotten off the street. A well-meaning child recently brought in an Indie puppy that she meant to adopt and it had almost no hair on its body. We diagnosed it with scabies, a mite infestation that can spread to humans, especially ones with a weaker immunity. The puppy could not be touched or handled by aged members of the family for a couple of weeks before we could finally cure it of this predicament.
Indies are imbued with a much stronger fight or flight response, which is a consequence of having to constantly be cautious on the streets. They are pack animals that, over the time, have evolved to become territorial. When brought into a home environment, they tend to be skittish and alert at all times. They can get protective of their home and may not allow guests to come over. These behavioural problems must be kept in mind and addressed early on. Socialisation and behaviour training is important for these dogs from a very young age in order to prevent unwarranted aggression in the future.
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Based on the trauma experienced on the streets or the treatment they may have gotten at the hands of other humans, some of these dogs can suffer from anxiety and mistrust of people. This also has to be taken into account while adopting them. While adoption of Indies is probably at an all-time high right now, problematic behaviour can also lead to abandonment.
Mental health of these Indies must be taken care of and not ignored. The constant anxiety and release of stress hormones can cause Indies to contract other illnesses. The gut-brain axis is a neurological communication between the central nervous system and the gut, wherein the latter responds to any anxiety experienced by the brain. This constant anxiety can cause an Indie to experience repeated tummy upsets and gastro intestinal issues such as vomiting.
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Just like in humans, constant release of stress hormones such as cortisol can have long term effects. Illness caused by a lowered immunity can surface in such pets. This can include repeated skin and ear infections. Indies also tend to have environmental and food allergies more often than one would like to admit. This leaves a lot of clients perplexed as they don’t expect this breed of dog to fall ill.
But Indies make for amazing pets, just like any other dog breed. While it is true that genetic illnesses associated with purebred dogs are not encountered with Indies, it does not necessarily mean they are ‘low maintenance’. Indies have their own needs in terms of training, exercise and patience to help them adjust and thrive in their homes.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.
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