The Role of Dogs in English Public Health

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the English demonstrated an increased concern about public health issues.  The publication of London’s Public Health Reports by local medical officers of health from 1848-1972 perhaps best exemplifies this increase of awareness and action.  While the reports describe a variety of public health concerns, we have here focused on the role of dogs in the lives and the health of the English.

V0021847 A man in a top hat walking his dogs. Etching by E. Hacker af
A man in a top hat walking his dogs. Etching by E. Hacker after E. Corbet. 1862. Wellcome Images.

Our examination dogs’ role in public health begins with a discussion of the relationship between people and dogs.  Understanding the Uses of Dogs in 19th and 20th century England aids an understanding of the health problems and proposed solutions associated with the animals.

Though many people used dogs in their daily lives, many also considered Dogs as Nuisances.  We here explore how the English responded to the less pleasant consequences of living with and around dogs, like their noise and excrement.

Sometimes, the British understood dogs to be more serious threats to health than just nuisances.  London’s Medical Officer of Health reports contain multiple citations of Dogs Spreading Fleas and Worms.  In this section, we explore heath officials’ linkage of dogs to their citizens’ health problems with these pests.

Finally, one of the diseases most commonly associated with dogs in 19th and 20th century England was Rabies.  The British used dogs as pets and in their work, so when the rabies virus spread widely during this period, public health officials had to respond more carefully than they would have if exterminating disease in vermin, for example.

By addressing the role of dogs in English society and exploring how that role affected public health measures when dogs were seen as nuisances and disease-carriers, we here attempt to provide a unique picture of early British urban life and understanding of public health.



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