Healthcare of animals: A preventive approach
By Bukola Adenubi
In my close to 25 years’ experience of being a veterinarian, animals are most times presented to the veterinarian averagely after more than a week of showing or being treated by the client for presented clinical signs. “I travelled on official assignment and came back today”, “My pet eats just what I eat or stays where I stay”, “The birds just started this sickness now”, are some of the phrases commonly encountered. All through, a long period of agony has been endured and cost of treatment is debated. As we go into a New Year, it is deemed necessary to highlight a few aspects of animal health care, as regards prevention of diseases.
Our animals, either wild or domesticated, are not able to tell us when they start to feel sick or how they feel, but by identifying behavioural changes as quickly as possible, we can reduce the impact that diseases can have on their wellbeing. Just like humans, animals face health challenges (viral, bacterial, protozoal, nutritional, and metabolic) that can negatively impact their wellbeing and quality of life. We should recognise that the health of humans is closely connected to the health of animals, and our shared environment (One-Health). Human populations are growing globally and there is mass migration of people into new geographic areas. As such, more and more people live in close contact with animals, providing more opportunities for diseases to pass between animals and humans (zoonotic diseases).
In addition, climate change and extensive land use, such as deforestation and intensive farming practices, provide new opportunities for diseases to pass to animals. In recent times, the movement of people, animals, and animal products has increased from international travel and trade, therefore, diseases can spread quickly across borders. These have led to the resurgence of known (endemic), emerging, and re-emerging zoonotic diseases, neglected tropical diseases, and vector-borne diseases (due to warmer temperatures and expanded mosquito and tick habitats). The devastating socio-economic effects of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and Ebola disease are examples. This, therefore, calls for an improved preventive animal healthcare approach for it is far easier to prevent diseases than to treat them.
Disease prevention focuses primarily on dedicated planning and sound management practices that keep infectious diseases out, and stop non-infectious diseases before they start. A good disease prevention programme emphasises three primary goals. Firstly, to reduce exposure to disease organisms by proper sanitation and stress management. Secondly, to increase resistance to disease by using recommended vaccination procedures, and thirdly, to treat disease outbreaks with specific medications that are effective against the disease being treated. Sanitation, a rather simple word, is commonly used in our daily conversations to refer to the establishment of environmental conditions that are favourable to health. They are management practices that actually prevent the growth of disease-causing organisms. They are usually not sophisticated and require a positive attitude, a workable programme, proper application, and little capital.
There is a practical way to clean a poultry house or hatchery, or a dog kennel. “Ìmọ́tótó borí àrùn mọ́lẹ̀, bi ọyẹ́ ti ḿborí ooru”, meaning cleanliness conquers diseases as cold (harmattan) overcomes the heat. Stress has a proven impact on animal performance, as it can reduce milk and meat production, alter reproduction and the animals natural defences. Ensuring that appropriate diet, parasite control, quarantine of ill and imported animals, regular health visits and screenings, prevention of unwanted pregnancies, and appropriate contingency planning, to cope with disease outbreaks, are the responsibilities of the keeper to manage stress.
Vaccination is basically the introduction of a specific biological substance (antigen) into the animal to stimulate immunity to a particular disease. Usually, the biological substance is a live, killed or weakened (attenuated) disease organism that one wants to protect the animal against. The presence of these organisms in the blood stimulates the body’s natural defence mechanism to produce antibodies, which then attack the disease-causing organisms when the animal is exposed to them. Short-term protection against a particular disease can also be given by administering an antiserum that contains antibodies previously formed by animals that have been exposed to that particular disease. As we take our infants for polio, diphteria, hepatitis, yellow fever vaccines etc, it is necessary that that our companion animals receive their routine antirabies (ARV) and DHLPP (Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parvoviral enteritis, Parainfluenza) vaccines.
In poultry, some of the commonly-required vaccinations are against Newcastle, Marek’s, Fowl cholera and Gumboro diseases, while in ruminants, the Pestes des petites ruminantes, Contagious Bovine Pleuro Pneumonia, Foot and Mouth Disease vaccines are some of the endemic and preventable diseases. Animal health visits are a crucial tool as they have potentials to improve livestock health, enhance economic efficiency and sustainability, as well as reduce use of antimicrobials. They also serve as practical and meaningful tools for adding value to farmers, veterinarians, consumers and society at large. Antimicrobials are widely used in animals to treat infections, prevent diseases and promote growth. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 131,109 tons of antimicrobials were used in livestock in 2013 and the figure is projected to rise to 200,235 tons by 2030. This use of antimicrobials in animals significantly contributes to the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and drug residues in animal by-products, two growing public health threats.
The WHO, United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) are currently taking steps at reducing and restricting the use of antimicrobials in animals. Successful preventive approach requires the cooperation of human, animal, and environmental health partners. We need to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate activities from a holistic view. Other relevant players could include law enforcement officers, policymakers, agriculture, communities, and even pet owners. No one person, organisation, or sector can address issues at the animal-human-environment interface alone. In 2022, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of Nigeria approved the revised National Animal Health Policy to improve animal care and vaccination. The Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammad Abubakar, opined that “We realised that the frequency of zoonotic diseases is on the rise. There is also the transboundary, that is animals from another country through going and coming, can infect animals here and then can infect humans. This is based on a new concept of one health-one health meaning, human health and animal health can be considered as one because one can cause an adverse effect, especially animals to humans; so, this is the purpose of this policy and it has been approved’’, he said.
Using newer technologies, it is now possible to hunt out disease indicators called biomarkers, to be moving from disease detection to disease prediction, giving veterinarians and owners the chance to intervene and choose personalised health care plans as early as possible, thereby improving the lives of their animals. Let us note that preventing animal diseases ultimately protects the environment and the health of humans. As one of society’s oldest adages says “Prevention is better than cure”. I dare say too that prevention is cheaper than cure. It really pays many times over. Failure to concentrate on planned disease prevention often leads to personal disappointment and sometimes disastrous financial loss. Not preventing diseases in our animals, is simply being penny wise, pound foolish. Afterall, ”Igi gogoro máàgún mi lójú, òkèrè la ti í wòó”, literally meaning, One avoids danger at the early stage.
Dr. Adenubi, an Associate Professor and Veterinarian, is a columnist with FarmingFarmersFarms, +2348025409691; firstname.lastname@example.org
This could go a long way in finding solution to the problems of animals and poultry farming in NIGERIA and AFRICA including our RANCHING