Hunting hounds pose ‘significant’ risk

Hunting hounds pose a significant risk of passing infectious diseases to humans, particularly children, and there is ‘overwhelming’ evidence that hunting hounds pose a huge risk to the health of farm animals – and thus the livelihood of farmers – according to the most comprehensive study ever written on the spreading of disease by hunting hounds.

The independent report, commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports, is an analysis of over a thousand published pieces of evidence in the public domain. Key findings include:

  • Hounds used for hunting carry numerous infectious diseases which can be spread to humans, particularly children, at events such as the Boxing Day hunt parades and country shows. These diseases are known to hospitalise and sometimes kill people.
  • While domestic dogs can also spread diseases, the risk from hunting hounds is far greater due to them being fed potentially diseased ‘fallen stock’ (carcasses of farm animals); a lack of standard veterinary precautions taken by hunts which are normal for pet owners; and the movement of hounds which regularly travel across farms and farmland, potentially carrying multiple diseases but without any biosecurity precautions.
  • Hunting hounds are fed hundreds of thousands of carcasses of dead farm animals every year, even though a significant proportion of these will be diseased. While it is legal to feed disease-free fallen stock to hounds, EU Regulations make it illegal to feed animals on fallen stock that died from a disease that could infect animals and/or humans. So each animal needs to be examined post mortem to establish the cause of death before it is fed to hounds. Hunts routinely flout this Regulation.
  • Diseases spread by hunting hounds to farm animals 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 4000 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. Breeding new hounds is cheaper than proper veterinary care, so diseased hounds are killed rather than cured.

Catastrophic for farmers

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.

Hunts are a major biosecurity risk as they not only contravene all basic biosecurity measures during a day’s hunting, with large numbers of horses, dogs, people and vehicles moving between farms and across farmland without implementing any of the recommended biosecurity advice, but they also cover 70% of rural areas in England and Wales.

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

“A year ago it was discovered that a pack of hunting hounds had contracted bovine TB. Given that bTB is a risk to livestock and people, we felt that a thorough investigation into the potential of hounds carrying and sharing disease needed to be carried out. The results are shocking and show that the problem is far wider than just bTB.

“The problem is not with dogs generally, because while all dogs can potentially spread disease, the way hunting hounds are looked after means they are a particular risk for several reasons. They are fed raw and potentially diseased carcasses of fallen livestock, they regularly travel across farmland where they can pick up and spread disease, and they are often not given the same level of veterinary treatment that pet dogs will get. The result is that these dogs are suffering, and in turn they can cause illness and suffering to other animals and people.

“The evidence is overwhelming that hunting poses a huge risk to the health of farm animals. 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. 

“When bTB was found in hunting hounds, the response from the farming industry and the government was to ignore it. That can’t happen again. We need an independent inquiry into the health risks of hunting hounds to both humans and livestock because otherwise this will be just swept under the carpet and the problem will continue. Hunts should be banned immediately from feeding fallen stock to their hounds, and they need to be releasing far more information about their hounds’ condition – if pet dog owners are under scrutiny to ensure their dogs are healthy, then so should the hunts.

 “Looking at all the evidence available, we can’t avoid the conclusion that there is a significant risk of hunting hounds spreading infectious diseases to humans. The risk is mainly to those with immature or weakened immune systems, which can include children, elderly people or people who are already sick. This problem needs to be taken seriously."

What needs to be done

  • An independent inquiry about the current health risk to other animals and humans of hunting activities should be instigated immediately.
  • Enforcement of current animal and public health regulations that apply to hunts to prevent them being ignored.
  • 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 and an end to using raw flesh and offal to feed hounds is long overdue.
  • Far more information about infectious diseases in hounds should be made public, including routine post mortems of hounds culled from packs. Hunts avoid examination by keeping this information secret, while exploiting loopholes in regulations meaning their dogs endure less scrutiny than the average dog owner would endure.
  • The immediate release of full details surrounding the Kimblewick bTB outbreak, the worst outbreak of bTB in UK dogs ever recorded. FOI requests for information on the outbreak have so far been refused.
  • Hunts must follow the basic biosecurity advice issued by all farming groups to protect both livestock and hounds.

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.

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

  • For more information or interview requests please contact the League Against Cruel Sports Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email

Human health risk

Despite the lack of quantified data, a wide range of diseases, including zoonoses (diseases in animals which can be transmitted to humans) and notifiable diseases, have been recorded in packs of hounds in the UK and elsewhere in the world.

These data show that there are a number of common risk factors associated with hunting hounds becoming infected with, and spreading, livestock and other diseases. These include: feeding raw meat and offal; poor standards of kennel hygiene; lack of adequate veterinary care; lack of routine monitoring of disease; close contact with livestock; and interacting with other packs of hounds.

Hounds are displayed at several hundred events a year where they have direct and indirect contact with other packs of hounds, livestock, and members of the public. While strict biosecurity rules apply to livestock displayed at shows, and farmers are advised to quarantine stock returning from a show, no such regulations apply to packs of hounds.

While there are benefits of human/animal contact at such shows, there are significant risks of disease transmission, especially to children because of their immature immune systems and poor standards of hygiene. There are also significant risks of disease transmission to other animals, as shown by the spread of kennel cough between packs of hounds in Britain and leishmaniosis between packs of foxhounds in North America.

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.

Those at most risk are those with weaker or compromised immune systems, including children, those who are ill and older people, who have weaker immune systems even if they are healthy.

Examples of diseases that can be spread from hunting hounds to humans include:

  • Salmonellosis, better known as Salmonella, which can cause fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and worse
  • Toxoplasmosis, which can lead to serious problems for some. This includes pregnant women, for whom it could cause a miscarriage or stillbirth, or the infection could spread to the baby and cause serious complications (congenital toxoplasmosis). Also for those who've had an organ transplant, such as those with HIV, and those having chemotherapy – this could mean the infection is able to spread to the eyes, heart, lungs or brain.
  • Campylobacteriosis, a common cause of diarrhoea, fever and stomach pain, which can be carried by dogs without them showing any signs.
  • Leptospirosis, leading to flu like symptoms and picked up either through touching infected animals or swimming in water infected by animal urine.
  • Capnocytophaga canimorsus are bacteria found in dogs’ mouths which can be passed to humans through dog bites but also through licking. They can cause septicemia, meningitis, endocarditis, and rare ocular infections.
  • Canine brucellosis, a canine veneral disease which can lead to bacterial infection in humans if transmitted through a cut.
  • Eggs of parasitic worms such as Toxocara canis (a round worm that causes toxocariasis in humans) and tapeworms such as Echinococcus granulosus (which causes hydatidosis in humans) adhere to the fur and are transferred to humans when they touch or stroke hounds

Farms and livestock

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.

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.

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.

Many of these sporting visits are made when the local pack of hounds is ill and unable to operate. Kennel cough is often the cause, but more significant diseases can also be involved. Hunts were making sporting visits to the Kimblewick Hunt’s country when their hounds were quarantined due to the most extensive outbreak of bovine tuberculosis ever recorded in dogs in 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.

Poor biosecurity

Animal diseases have taken a heavy toll on the agricultural economy, and some also pose a health risk to humans. The term biosecurity came to the forefront of animal health during the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease epidemic, and is now both a cornerstone of disease control and a legal requirement. While biosecurity is essential for controlling livestock diseases, biosecurity measures on farms remain poor. Recent increases in, and spread of, a number of livestock diseases are probably due to poor biosecurity standards

Hunts are a major biosecurity risk as they not only contravene all basic biosecurity measures during even one day’s hunting, with large numbers of horses, dogs, people and vehicles moving between farms and across farmland without implementing any of the recommended biosecurity advice, but they also cover 70% of rural areas in England and Wales. Basic biosecurity measures include:

  • Minimising the risks of moving personnel, equipment and vehicles between farms;
  • the need to thoroughly disinfect people, equipment and vehicles before they arrive at a farm and before they move onto another farm;
  • the importance of keeping visiting vehicles away from livestock and the need to provide hard standing so that all mud and faeces adhering to the vehicle (and equipment) can be cleaned off, preferably with a power hose, before the vehicle enters the farm and before it leaves;
  • and the importance of not transferring soil, slurry and faecal material to other farms on the wheels of vehicles or on the feet of animals.

Fouling by dogs is a particular health issue for many farmers, but the focus on dog fouling of agricultural land has been on companion animals. A survey in Scotland found that almost 40% of farmers had livestock that had contracted disease as a result of dog fouling on their grazing land. Dog owners are requested, but not required, to clear up their dog’s faeces in rural areas. They are also requested to ensure that:

  • their dogs are wormed regularly;
  • they keep their dogs out of fields with vegetable and soft fruit crops;
  • they do not move from one farm to another;
  • they keep their dogs on a lead near livestock, especially young livestock;
  • they keep to footpaths to minimise the risks of disease transmission; and not to allow their dogs to drink from livestock water troughs or to foul water supplies that may be used to supply drinking water.

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.

Fallen stock

A number of veterinary organisations have issued advice urging people not to feed raw meat to dogs because of the health risks to the dogs and the risks of disease transmission to humans. Raw meat can carry a number of life-threatening pathogens, and dogs can excrete some of these pathogens without showing any symptoms. Feeding raw meat diets to working and other dogs in contact with livestock perpetuates a number of costly livestock diseases.

For the last fifty years collectin raw meat and offal from fallen stock has been portrayed as a service to farmers. The Meat (Sterilization) Regulations 1969 and subsequent legislation were designed to restrict the use of meat not fit for human consumption. However, hunt kennels were viewed as a service rather than a trade and so were unlicensed and could continue to obtain fallen stock or casualty animals from farmers. At the time this was described as a loophole in the regulations. While it is impossible to quantify the disease risks, and associated financial costs to the agricultural sector, of feeding fallen stock to hounds, collecting fallen stock by hunts is likely to be a financial burden to farmers rather than a service.

The number of hunts that collect fallen stock is unclear, but most hunts are registered with Defra as approved animal by-product plants. The number of fallen stock collected by hunts and fed to hounds as raw flesh and offal is likely to be several hundred-thousand: some hunts obtain most of the fallen stock in their area.

A number of studies have identified fallen stock collectors as the farm visitors least likely to follow basic biosecurity rules, even though they pose a particularly high risk of disease transmission. Hunt staff and vehicles also pose a particular disease risk because they often enter livestock areas, and particularly when they are required to slaughter animals. 

Causes of death for fallen stock are not routinely recorded, but one exploratory study identified hundreds of different causes of death, including a wide range of diseases that can be transmitted to both animals and humans. It is impossible to know the cause of death of fallen stock without a routine post mortem of each animal. Twenty years ago the EU’s Scientific Steering Committee said that, because it was impossible to determine the cause of death for each animal, fallen stock should not be fed to hounds. Whether or not individual carcases are from animals that have died of disease, the high proportion of fallen stock that are infected with a range of pathogens means that it is inevitable that hounds are regularly fed with livestock that has died from a disease that could infect animals and/or humans. Hunts routinely contravene the regulations that forbid using fallen stock that has died of disease as animal feed.

Some of the causes of death identified by The Fallen Stock Project in 2472 carcases from 1053 beef and sheep farms from northern England:

  • Over one in five lambs submitted died from a parasitic infection when combining deaths due to coccidiosis, Nematodirus and other parasitic worms. Johne’s disease (paratuberculosis) was found in 6.8%
  • There were over a hundred different diagnoses from 416 calf carcases, with pneumonia accounting for over 30% of diagnoses
  • Of 259 cattle between six and 24 months old, pneumonia accounted for 21% of all diagnoses, clostridial disease for 18% and lungworm for 3.9%
  • The 206 suckler cows had over 80 different causes of death; Johne’s disease was the biggest single cause

It should go without saying that equipment contaminated with mucus, faeces and blood from fallen stock is likely to harbour infectious organisms, and that the movement of vehicles and personnel used to collect fallen stock between farms poses a significant risk of disease transmission. However, a number of studies have highlighted that dead stock collection is one of the areas where biosecurity measures are weakest.

Culling hounds

While a large number of hounds (probably over 4000) are culled from packs each year, there is remarkably little information on the health of hunting hounds in Britain. Most are culled when they are no longer able to hunt with the pack, usually when between half and two-thirds of their normal life expectancy, and this is likely to be due to an underlying health issue.

Hounds that are culled are rarely examined post mortem, thereby allowing infectious diseases to go unnoticed and either spread within the pack and/or to livestock. However, the limited data available suggest that several hundred of the hounds culled each year are likely to have been infected with a variety of diseases, many of which pose a risk to livestock and/or humans.

The MFHA of America publishes detailed health treatment programmes for their hounds, whereas the health treatment programmes for packs of hounds in the UK are not publicly available. This lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess whether the health treatment programmes implemented by UK packs of hounds are adequate. The limited amount of information that is available raises concerns about the vaccination and programmes to treat internal and external parasites of packs of hounds. Despite the significant risks to livestock, humans and the hounds themselves, the key concern of hunts seems to be to prevent diseases such as kennel cough that have the potential to curtail hunting.

A study in Ireland suggests that 13-17% of the hounds culled in Britain each year will be infected with debilitating, progressive, potentially fatal diseases that could be transferred to other members of the pack, livestock and/or people. So with around 4000 working hounds being culled in Britain each year, between 520 and 680 of these hounds will have been infected with a variety of diseases. However, these went undiagnosed because the hounds were culled for reasons such as being too slow, which in itself may well reflect some underlying disease or other ill-health problem. The limited data available suggests that ill-health has always been an underlying factor that determines whether a hound is culled: the 125 hounds examined post mortem in the early 1970s as part of a study into equine hydatidosis were put down because of old age, sickness, or wilfulness; what constituted sickness was not reported.

Bovine TB and Kimblewick

In the UK, bTB is rarely recorded in dogs. Only eight cases were diagnosed in dogs from 1993 to 2009 and these were invariably isolated cases . Thus the number of hounds infected with bTB at the Kimblewick Hunt in 2016 is particularly remarkable. From December 2016, 25 foxhounds were identified as being infected with bTB and destroyed; while the number of hounds involved has still to be confirmed, anecdotal reports suggest that the number culled was even higher. On 28th February 2017 the MFHA said that there would be an update on the situation when more information became available; a year after the event no further details have been released.

It remains unclear how so many hounds became infected with bTB, or for how long the disease had remained undetected in the pack. A case in Ireland, where the disease was only detected by chance at post mortem, suggests that this could have been for some time. Following confirmation of bTB in the Kimblewick hounds, there was no further contact between the Hunt’s hounds and other packs, but apparently there had been contact with other hunts prior to this, when the Kimblewick hounds were likely to have been infected with bTB, and may have been infectious. A monitoring and testing protocol was implemented across the country, presumably to look for spread of bTB to other packs of hounds, since inhaling aerosols from infected animals is a common route of infection. The results of this monitoring programme are yet to be announced.

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