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Keeping Dogs in the Tropics

Over the centuries, the creature we know as a dog has become more acutely attuned to the emotions of humans than any other species of domesticated animal. Whilst most dog enthusiasts are well aware of the many benefits of sharing one’s life with a canine companion, many are unaware of health advantages that go hand in hand with the human-animal bond. Studies have shown that the dog ownership is directly linked to:
  • Reducing the risk of depression
  • Lowering blood pressure levels
  • Elevating serotonin and dopamine levels, both of which are known to calm and relax
  • Lowering the risk of a heart attack
  • 30 per cent fewer visits to a doctor for pet owners over the age of 65
Thailand & Dogs
The word in Thailand for a dog is “Măa”. Despite the fact that there are so many stray dogs living rough on the streets that divide and split the Land of Smiles, Thailand is actually a very pet friendly nation. Most Thais extend the same affection to their domestic dogs as Westerners do. However in general Thai people believe that it is far crueler to collect, cage, and euthanize homeless animals for the transgression of not having a caretaker. The Buddhist philosophy that so many Thais hold dear, dictates that it’s better for one’s karma to simply let them live peacefully on the streets.
Although the majority of wayward dogs are left to fend for themselves, many are kindly fed leftovers by non-owners and shopkeepers. Others are attended to by monks at a local temple, making it the nearest thing to an animal inn or dog hotel. In addition, there are also a number of foreign and Thai operated animal shelters all doing good work in regard to providing shelter, sustenance, medical attention, and ultimately, a friendly long-term home for as many soi dogs as possible. 
Thai Breeds
If you are seeking a furry friend and already reside within the Kingdom of Thailand, it’s recommended that a dog native to Siam be selected. Thai breeds, of which there are but two (not counting mongrels), are considered best as they are already acclimated to the climate and when taken care of, are much better suited to a life in the tropics. The Thai Ridgeback or Măa Thai Lang An, is so named because of the bristly ridge of hair that runs the length of its back. Curiously, the ridge points in the opposing direction to which the rest of the animal’s very short, smooth coat faces. The Thai Ridgeback is a muscular and medium sized animal. This very agile dog’s other characteristics include sharp ears and a wrinkled brow on its wedge shaped head. Its coat colors include blue, black, red-brown, fawn and white. The Ridgeback is considered to be loyal, highly intelligent, energetic, and it makes a great family pet when properly socialized. It’s naturally protective instincts also make the Thai Ridgeback one of; if not the best watchdogs one can keep. Because the Ridgeback can be somewhat strong minded, and it retains a great deal of if its natural hunting ability, this breed is not recommended for a first time dog owner.
The other dog thought to be native to Thailand is the Bangkaew Dog or Măa Thai Bang-Kaew. Medium of build and slightly square in profile, the Bangkaew’s appearance is similar to that of the Spitz or an Akita. The dogs covering consists of a double coat of under and outer fur that grows longer as it approaches the back, chest and neck, forming a lion-like ruff that is primarily white with patches of red, gray, brown or black placed in a wide variety of patterns. Other distinguishing features include erect triangular ears and a tail that curls up and over its back. Like the Ridgeback, the Bangkaew is intelligent, athletic, alert and very protective. As such, it makes an excellent guardian or watchdog. When properly socialized the Bangkaew is not aggressive, but it can appear so when in the presence of strangers or other dogs. The animal’s dominant and headstrong nature definitely requires the firm hand of an experienced dog owner.
Importing the Family Pet
If you are relocating to Thailand it is possible to import the family dog. To do so, one needs to obtain an “Identity and Health Certificate” in the country from the nation of origin, and it must be compiled and signed by a registered veterinarian before arriving in Bangkok. In addition, the animal will need to be vaccinated for Rabies 15 days before departure, as well as for Leptospirosis, Hepatitis, and Parvovirus 21 days before departure. Valid health and vaccination certificates for all of the above must be presented upon arrival in Thailand. After which, the dog will be quarantined for a minimum of 30 days for observation and testing for disease if any symptoms are present during the quarantine. Prior to making any travel plans it’s recommended that you check with your local veterinarian as well as the Thai Embassy in your country to ensure that you are fully apprised of all pertinent local and international regulations and requirements.
Health & Safety
In regard to a dog’s health most of the same rules from the animal’s home country apply in the tropics. Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are always up to date, especially Rabies as that disease is very common in Thailand. It is carried by rats, bats and stray soi dogs, as well as a host of other small animals. Bathe your dog at regular intervals with a medicated pet shampoo to rid the skin of ticks and other parasites, all of which thrive in the tropics. Pay particular attention to the animal’s ears in order to prevent ear infections, which can be fairly commonplace. There have been reports of dogs dying after being bitten by venomous snakes or eaten by pythons, but the odds of that actually happening are slim. There are plenty of Thai veterinarian clinics around town, but finding a good one is sometimes difficult.
Keeping Cool
Unlike humans a dog’s body temperature cannot be cooled down by a light breeze evaporating perspiration, because a dog doesn’t sweat. Since a dog’s only means of cooling down is panting, it will heat up much faster than its two legged master during any sort of physical exertion. Dog doctors claim that an adult dog’s normal body temperature is 38.9C. Brain damage occurs when the body temperature rises to 41C, and death occurs at approximately 42C. What this means to the average Pattaya pet owner is that if your pooch overexerts itself under a withering tropical sun it could become seriously dehydrated.This in turn, can lead to heat exhaustion or worse, heatstroke, both of which can be potentially fatal if ignored or left untreated.
Like all other maladies, prevention is the best medicine. Therefore, don’t leave your dog in a parked car. A car, even under the shade and with the windows wide open, can reach temperatures of 66C in no time. Likewise, never leave your dog outdoors without a source of shade and plenty of fresh water to drink. Avoid exercising your dog when the sun is at or near its zenith. Instead, do so early in the morning or evening when temperatures are several degrees cooler. You may also want to invest in a canine ‘cooling vest’ or ‘cool bed’. Another easy solution is a ‘cool collar’ made from a tube of durable fabric that’s large enough to fit ice cubes into. When worn around a dog’s neck the melting ice seeps through the material and cools down the animal’s chest and neck. If fabric, a buckle, and instructions are provided, one of Pattaya’s sidewalk seamstresses can stitch one together for a few baht while you wait.
In the tropics, it may seem logical to shave or give a long haired dog a buzz cut, but it isn’t. Mother Nature is way smarter than we are and a dog’s top or ‘guard’ coat is there for a reason. Unless it’s matted, the top coat allows excess body heat to escape whilst deflecting the sun’s harmful rays – thus preventing the sun’s heat from reaching the skin. Believe it or not it actually keeps the dog cooler! When shorn or shaved the animal is exposed to the full force of the sun’s ferocity. And that’s never a good thing.
Exporting the Family Pet
If you’ve acquired a pet during your stay in Thailand and wish to take it back to your home country, you must begin preparations for international pet travel early. Thai law requires that you obtain an “International Health Certificate” and an “Export License” from the Thai Department of Livestock Development before departing. It is also vital that you contact the consulate or embassy of the country of the pet’s ultimate destination to ascertain its regulation in regard to importing an animal from Thailand.
In addition, to a properly filled out pet import form , many Western countries require that pets be microchipped, have an appropriate microchip card, health certificate, as well as proof that the pet has received up to date booster vaccinations, and a booklet in which all of the appropriate official Thai stamps and signatures indicating this to be so are present. Depending on the country, you might also be required to present a blood test confirming that the animal does not have Rabies. Often nations will only accept the results of a blood test conducted in a laboratory approved by the country of import. Because the rules and regulations governing the import of pets vary from nation to nation, it’s imperative to contact the authorities of the country of import and export before making any travel arrangements.
Air Travel
If your international travel plans include the family pet, after first obtaining all of the necessary documentation and dealing with the airlines, you’ll need to prepare your pet for travel. You may need a transport box that meets International Air Transportation Association (IATA) requirements, an airline approved water feeder, and some absorbent puppy pads. Make sure that the size of the travel crate is appropriate for your dog and that it’s ventilated properly on all sides. Begin training your dog well in advance of the departure date to accustom it to being inside the crate. Situate the crate where the dog normally sleeps and place the dog’s favorite blanket or toys inside along with some treats. The dog should be allowed to enter of its own free will and gradually increase the length of time it spends inside. The day before travel, bathe and groom your dog, and carefully check for fleas and ticks. For obvious reasons, keep the dog’s final feeding small. Place a puppy pad in the bottom of the crate and cover that with the dog’s favorite blanket or pillow. If you include one of your unwashed t-shirts, its scent will provide a small measure of additional comfort during the journey. Remove the wheels, install the water feeder, and then leave a small amount of food and a sensibly sized rawhide chew. Make sure the door is securely locked and your pet is good to go.