The Social Transmission of Disease in Dogs

In September 2015 I started a PhD at the University of Exeter investigating the social transmission of diseases in free-roaming domestic dogs. My supervisory team includes Prof. Robbie McDonald (University of Exeter), Prof. Darren Croft (University of Exeter), Dr. Sarah Perkins (University of Cardiff) and Dr. Euan Ritchie (University of Deakin).

Emerging infectious diseases often originate from non-human animals and pose a significant threat to welfare, economics and conservation efforts. There is an increasing awareness that the dynamics of animal social groups, particularly variation in contact rates, is an important consideration if we are to successfully predict and prevent disease epidemics.

To date there has been no social network constructed for free-roaming domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). This is surprising considering that 70% of the known viruses and parasites that infect dogs are shared with other wildlife and many of these diseases are zoonotic.

My research involves the characterisation of the spatial movements and contact rates between free-roaming domestic dogs. By understanding the dynamics of the dogs contact networks I hope to identify individuals that disproportionately contribute to the transmission of disease. This research has the potential to inform disease management efforts, helping to better predict and prevent the spread of diseases similar to rabies.