Animal welfare charity warns farmers of disease risk as hunting hounds gather at the Lycetts Festival of Hunting

The annual Lycetts Festival of Hunting being held tomorrow in Peterborough boasts the ‘greatest gathering of hounds in the country’. But the League Against Cruel Sports is warning that the attendance of the packs of hounds is a major biosecurity threat.

According to a report analysing over a thousand published pieces of evidence in the public domain:

  • Hounds used for hunting carry numerous infectious diseases which can be spread to livestock, other hounds, and even humans. The dogs often contract the diseases after being fed the carcasses of diseased livestock.
  • Diseases spread by hunting hounds contribute to a substantial number of infections each year, costing the livestock and farming industries ‘millions’, as hunts regularly ignore ‘biosecurity’ measures which are designed to prevent disease spreading.
  • At least 4,000 hunt hounds are euthanised by hunts each year, many around 6-10 years old, often because they are too ill to keep up with the rest of the pack. Studies suggest many of these will have diseases but post mortems are rarely done.

Chris Pitt, Deputy Director of Campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said:

“Agricultural and country shows are a long-standing tradition and a part of country life, but research shows that they are basically a melting pot of disease which is leading to disaster for farmers and animal welfare.

“You’ve got hunting hounds from different parts of the country all mixing together. If even one of those dogs is carrying disease – which is highly likely – then the risk of it passing it to other dogs or livestock is also high. The disease then gets moved around the country and livestock dies, which is both a financial and welfare cost. Local hounds are then fed the carcasses – and the cycle continues.

“Anyone taking livestock to a show must follow basic biosecurity measures to ensure that their animals do not spread, or pick up, disease. There are question marks over how successful these measures are anyway, but evidence suggests that hunts take even less care with their hounds. Given the huge impact disease has on the countryside, it’s unbelievable that so little care or thought is being given to this problem.”

Hunting with Hounds and the Spread of Disease

The independent report, Hunting with Hounds and the Spread of Disease, 2018, pulls together research on disease spread over decades. It was commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports following the discovery of bTB in a pack of hunting hounds early in 2017. The intention was to identify any potential risks of hunting hounds spreading bTB, but the results were shocking.

Accumulated evidence in the study suggests overwhelmingly that hunting with hounds maintains and/or spreads several livestock parasites and pathogens that have a major economic impact on British farmers.

Unlike pet dogs, packs of hounds pose a particular risk to livestock farmers because: (i) they are fed on fallen stock that have contracted a number of parasites and diseases; (ii) their poor veterinary care and inadequate vaccination and worming programmes; and (iii) they are out of sight of, and often a long way from, the huntsman, when hunting, so it is impossible to collect their faeces, to keep them away from livestock and vegetable crops, or to prevent them drinking from water troughs. Fouling of water supplies is a particular concern for minkhounds, which routinely hunt in streams, rivers and lakes.

Chris Pitt added:

“We’ve currently got thousands of badgers being killed to try and stop bTB, even though there’s no real evidence that they have any major impact on the disease. Meanwhile hunting packs are riding roughshod from farm to farm, travelling around the country and even abroad to different events, with no real biosecurity measures in place. If my livelihood depended on having healthy livestock, I wouldn’t be letting hunts anywhere near my land.

“Farmers may think that the hunts are doing them a favour by taking away their fallen stock, but they are getting a raw deal. If stock are diseased, then the hounds will potentially pick that disease up and literally drop it back onto the farm – so the livestock will once again get sick. It’s a vicious circle which could be costing the farmers a fortune, not to mention inflicting painful diseases on their animals. It looks like hunts are abusing the trust of the farmers because they don’t want to pay to properly feed their dogs or adequately vaccinate them, so they are saving money but it’s the farmers who are paying.”

Concerns around this issue are known, as in 2017 new government rules were put in place regarding feeding offal to hounds and treating hounds for tapeworm. However expert opinion is that the measures don’t go far enough and will not solve the problem.

“If farmers or the government think they’ve dealt with this issue, then they will be disappointed,” said Chris Pitt. “This problem is a huge one which won’t be solved by half measures.

“We need an immediate independent inquiry about the current health risk to other animals and humans of hunting activities. There must be proper enforcement of current animal and public health regulations that apply to hunts to prevent them being ignored, and there should be an immediate ban on hunts being allowed to feed fallen stock to their hounds. This has been recognised as posing a significant disease risk for half a century but no-one seems to be taking it seriously.”


While the risk is believed to be lower than animal-to-animal disease transmission, the evidence shows that there are significant risks of disease transmission to humans, particularly to children, because of their immature immune systems and poor standards of hygiene, and older people.

While there is the potential to catch these diseases from all dogs, including pets, the risk from hunting hounds is much higher because of what they are fed, the lack of veterinary care, and the freedom hunts have to move across farmland without biosecurity scrutiny.

Examples of diseases that can be spread from hunting hounds to humans include Salmonella, Toxoplasmosis, which can lead to serious problems for pregnant women, and Campylobacteriosis, a common cause of diarrhoea, fever and stomach pain, which can be carried by dogs without them showing any signs.

The study, Hunting with hounds and the spread of disease, by Professor Stephen Harris, BSc PhD DSc and Dr Jo Dorning, BSc PhD, is available online.

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Notes to Editors

  1. Accumulated evidence in the report suggests overwhelmingly that hunting with hounds maintains and/or spreads several livestock parasites and pathogens that have a major economic impact on British farmers, and pose a significant health risk to humans.
  2. For some diseases, such as equine hydatidosis, feeding hounds on raw meat and offal after the Second World War was the major factor leading to a dramatic increase in both the prevalence and distribution of the disease. For diseases such as ovine hydatidosis and sheep tapeworms that cause a major economic loss to farmers, hunts make a significant contribution to maintaining and spreading the infections. For other diseases, it is harder to identify the exact contribution made by hunts to the overall spread of infection. However, in view of the overall economic losses farmers incur due to livestock diseases, hunting with hounds is likely to impose a substantial financial burden on livestock farmers.
  3. The risks of disease transmission by hunts are heightened by sporting visits, whereby hunts take horses, hounds, vehicles and followers to hunt in different parts of the country, often long distances from their home base. This can include visits to other parts of Europe, thus risking introducing novel diseases into the country, and reciprocally means European hunts bringing their own hounds to Britain.

Examples of diseases spread from hounds to farm animals:

  • Neosporosis is caused by a coccidian parasite first detected in dogs in the mid-1980s. In the early 1990s it was confirmed as a major cause of abortion or still-birth in dairy and beef cattle; infected cattle are 37 times more likely to abort than uninfected cattle.
  • Sarcocystosis is caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Sarcocystis: there are a number of intermediate hosts including dogs, and can cause neurological disease and death in sheep.
  • While other parasites can be spread to livestock from dog faeces, neosporosis and sarcocystis are of particular concern because there are no licensed vaccines or drugs for these diseases and because of their economic impact on farming. Hounds become infected with these two diseases by being fed raw flesh and offal from fallen stock.
  • Cestodes in sheep: Foxhounds have a high prevalence of a number of species of tapeworm for which sheep are the intermediate host. Cysticercus ovis (sometimes called sheep measles) and Cysticercus tenuicollis are the larval stages in sheep of the tapeworms Taenia ovis and Taenia hydatigena respectively. While Cysticercus ovis and Cysticercus tenuicollis rarely cause disease in sheep, they have a significant economic impact for sheep farmers due to abattoir rejections. In 2012 Cysticercus ovis led to 66,500 lambs being rejected and an industry loss of £5 million, and Cysticercus tenuicollis was the most common cause of lamb liver rejection in English abattoirs in 2012, with 742,000 rejections. While less common, Cysticercus ovis can be more economically damaging for farmers because whole carcase rejection. In 2014, 8.8% of sheep livers were rejected due to Cysticercus tenuicollis, and in 2015 0.61% of the carcases of all the sheep slaughtered in England were rejected for Cysticercus ovis and 5.81% for Cysticercus tenuicollis. The consumption of raw meat and offal from sheep carcases by dogs had a significant effect on the prevalence of these cestodes.
  • Johne’s disease (paratuberculosis): Animals typically become infected with Johne’s disease at a very young age by being exposed to the bacteria from faeces deposited on pasture, among other routes. The disease is significantly under-diagnosed in sheep, but annual mortality rates can be as high as 5-10% in many infected flocks, and in two fallen stock surveys Johne’s disease was diagnosed in 6% of ewes.
  • Toxoplasmosis: While accurate figures are not available, 350,000 people in the UK are estimated to become infected with Toxoplasma, and toxoplasmosis is one of the most costly gastrointestinal infections because the infection is widespread in livestock. Toxoplasma infection in sheep is usually acquired via oocyst contaminated feed, pasture and water and is a major cause of abortion and stillbirth in sheep and goats. In 2011, 26% of perinatal lamb losses on Welsh sheep farms were attributed to abortions or stillbirths, and these are estimated to cost the UK sheep industry £30 million a year.

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