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This section provides key facts about animal management and Indigenous environmental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander environmental health practitioners. The information is presented in two parts. The first part provides information on the importance of dogs to Indigenous communities, the impact of dog health on human health, and the aims of dog management programs. The second part considers common animal pests found in Indigenous communities, the impact of pests on human health and how pests can be avoided and exterminated. At the end of this section you will find information for specific resources that may relate to your area of interest or expertise.

Why are dogs and dog health important to Indigenous communities?

Dogs are an important part of most Australian Indigenous communities; however, the importance and role of dogs vary between Indigenous peoples. Dogs provided protection, warmth and companionship, minded children and were hunters. It is also believed that they warned of evil spirits and were the reincarnated form of ancestors. Currently, dogs often live with Indigenous people, sharing bedding and food, and may have close contact with children.

The impact of dog health on human health is a complex issue. While scientific studies have shown that certain dog diseases can affect humans, it is not know if this occurs very often. Anecdotal evidence suggests that healthier dogs reduce the incidence of certain illnesses in humans. There is now strong evidence that dog scabies cannot be transferred to humans.

Even if many illnesses cannot be directly passed from dogs to humans, sick or untrained dogs can pose a risk to human health. Children who have close relationships with puppies are at increased risk of certain diseases because they may play in areas contaminated with dog urine and faeces.

Many people living and working in Indigenous communities feel that improved dog health has lead to other improvements in the community. In communities that have undertaken a dog program, there is a sense of pride in the health of their dogs and increased awareness of health issues in the community.

What social and health problems do dogs contribute to?

Health issues:

Environmental issues:

Safety issues:

What types of dogs are found in Indigenous communities?

There are four main categories of dogs found in communities:
Domesticated dogs:

Camp dogs:

Fringe camp dogs:

Dingoes/wild dogs:

What is a dog program?

A dog program is designed to improve the health and wellbeing of all four categories of dogs and the general community. The program must be shaped by the community and include qualified veterinary staff.

Dog programs aim to:

Things to consider when setting up a dog health program include:

What are pests?

Pests are any animal or insect that has a negative effect on human health or wellbeing, where people live or what they eat. Pests can carry diseases, germs and parasites, and may also damage stored food, clothing or shelter.

What pests are common in communities?

There are many pests around Australia. The most common pests found in Indigenous communities are:

Why are pests a problem?

Pests can carry many diseases on their bodies. Pests like cockroaches, flies and rodents carry diseases including salmonellosis, shigellosis, Hepatitis A and gastroenteritis which cause gastrointestinal (stomach) problems like diarrhoea and vomiting. These diseases can be transferred when a pest contacts food or cooking items (pots, pans, cutlery, etc) that people use. When they land or touch the food or cooking item, the germs on their bodies may be transferred to it and contaminate it. When people eat the contaminated food or use the contaminated cooking items, they can get sick.

Flies also help spread a serious eye disease called trachoma which is common in some Indigenous communities. Flies are attracted to the salt found in tears and the moisture in eyes. When a fly touches the eye of someone who is infected with trachoma, it can spread the disease by touching the eye of another person who does not have trachoma.

Rodents carry germs that cause leptospirosis which causes a sickness like the flu, but can be very severe if it affects the lungs or kidneys. Leptospirosis is transmitted through infected water, mud or urine that comes in contact with a person's eyes, nose, or cuts in the skin. Rats also transmit rat-bite fever which is also transmitted through their urine or biting.

Mosquito bites can transmit viral diseases like Ross River fever, Murray Valley encephalitis and dengue fever (Qld only) and may get infected if they are scratched.

What conditions attract pests?

How do you control or get rid of pests?


Government of WA Department of Health (1997) Aboriginal Environmental Health Workers Manual 1997.Retrieved [Access 1997] from

Menzies School of Health Research (2000) Environmental health handbook: a practical manual for remote communities. Darwin: Menzies School of Health Research

Territory Health Services (2002) The public health bush book. 2nd ed. [Darwin]: Territory Health Services:

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    Last updated: 4 August 2009
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