Strays face many challenges in their struggle for life.

This section covers some of the diseases which are common in Sri Lanka.


Canine Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a life threatening viral disease of dogs. It affects puppies more frequently than it affects adult dogs.



Distemper is an acute, highly contagious, viral disease which is transmitted through the air or via body secretions. Canine distemper virus is often fatal and pups are particularly vulnerable. 

Pup found in the road in Colombo-a victim of distemper.




Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease often passed to dogs through contaminated water or soil and causes potentially fatal liver/kidney disease.

Vaccinations are effective in the prevention of these lethal diseases, but for the strays, preventative measures are not available.



Blood Parasites-(Tropical/Exotic diseases)

One of the greatest challenges we face in Sri Lanka are the silent killers-the blood parasite diseases which are endemic and kill thousands of strays and pets alike every year. Over 90% of the strays we have routinely blood tested are infected, most being successfully treated.  

For most strays there is no hope of veterinary care, let alone a simple blood test. Therefore once infected, the animal suffers and eventually dies. Pet dogs are also vulnerable to these diseases because many spend their lives tethered outside and are vulnerable to tick and mosquito bites. Few pets are routinely blood tested or are given preventative measures to control the vector ticks and infections from mosquitoes.

Animal SOS Sri Lanka was kindly donated a microscope by a supporter and we routinely blood test all animals in our care as well as those who are treated at our clinic. This allows for prompt treatment and has saved countless lives.    


The ‘Tick Fevers'

'Canine babesiosis is a Protozoan blood parasite caused by Babesia canis or Babesia gibsoni and is transmitted when the babesia tick bites a dog. The parasite attacks the red blood cells and symptoms include-weakness, anaemia, fever, anorexia, jaundice and ultimately multi organ failure.

The disease causes the suffering and death of thousands of pets and strays in Sri Lanka. In very acute cases, death can occur in 24 hours. Puppies are particularly vulnerable.   Successful treatment is possible in most cases when a prompt diagnosis is made through a blood test.  Preventative measures include controlling the vector ticks and using 'spot-ons'/ tick collars to prevent infections and re-infections.

Click to read Suki's story a dog who had Babesia


Ehrlichiosis (Tick Fever)

Ehrlichiosis is transmitted to dogs through the bite of infected ticks; the brown dog tick.

There are several species of Ehrlichia, but the one most commonly seen in Sri Lanka and causes the most severe clinical signs is Ehrlichia canis.

Again, a blood test is required to make a diagnosis and if left untreated, the disease causes multiple health problems to the dog-  anaemia, thrombocytopenia (decreased platelets- the blood clotting cells), bleeding episodes, lameness, eye problems (including bleeding into the eyes), neurological problems, and swollen limbs. If the bone marrow fails, the dog becomes unable to manufacture any of the blood cells necessary to sustain life (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) resulting in death.  

Treatment- tetracycline, doxycycline (antibiotics) usually successful with dogs in the earlier stages of the disease, but dogs with depleted immune systems and in the terminal stage of infection, are less likely to respond to treatment.

It is vital to diagnose E.canis before a dog undergoes surgery as devastating and fatal haemorrhaging can occur. These blood tests are not generally conducted before surgery in Sri Lanka.



Another tick borne disease affecting dogs and cats. It can cause serious disease in animals with concurrent disease such as ehrlichiosis and babesiosis, or in animals with depleted immune systems.

Symptoms include fever, loss of weight, anaemia, anorexia, nasal discharge, and weakness of the rear limbs. As the disease progresses animals experience lameness, severe muscle pain, and collapse.

Like the other blood parasites, Hepatozoon is diagnosed by a blood test.            



A mosquito borne disease commonly known as ‘Heartworm’. However, in Sri Lanka the adult worm does not live in the heart and pulmonary artery (Dirofilaria immitis) but reside in the subcutaneous tissue of infected animals, releasing microfilariae that circulate the blood and lymph.

The strain-Dirofilaria (Nochtiella) repens, affects both cats and dogs in Sri Lanka and causes severe skin irritations, oedema, and sub-cutaneous nodules. The parasite can also migrate to the eyes.

Diagnosis is through a blood test. Ivermectin is commonly used to treat this condition.

The photo below shows an example of true 'Heartworm' (D.immitis) in this case in a street dog in Bangkok, Thailand, (end stage disease) - ascites, congestive heart, and respiratory failure.


Transmissible Venereal Tumour (TVT)

Transmissible venereal tumour (TVT) is a sexually transmitted disease endemic in breeding streets dogs. It is spread primarily through mating activity. Female dogs are slightly more prone to the disease than male dogs. Large tumours develop mainly on the genitals, causing great suffering to the animals that have little hope of veterinary treatment. Female dogs can suffer persistent vaginal bleeding for months and tumours can rupture causing infections/fly strike and blood poisoning. Without intervention animals suffer an agonising death.

TVT is often curable with a course of chemotherapy injections(Vincristine). Surgical excision and restructuring is also an option once there has been a response to the chemotherapy.

Mass sterilisation of street dogs could in the long term, eradicate transmissible venereal tumours.


Killer Cancers

Malignant skin cancers such as: Melanomas and Squamous Cell Carcinomas are common in strays living on the street and exposed to the hot sun. Untreated tumours spread locally and ultimately spread to vital organs such as the lungs. For the animal it is a slow and agonising death.


Womb infection- PYOMETRA  

Pyometra is an infection of the uterus- a collection of pus in the uterine cavity. This is a serious condition and fatal if the dog is not spayed. For a street dog suffering with this condition there is no hope of survival and an agonising death.

Pyometra can be a possible complication of the use of hormonal treatments when used as contraceptives and one of the main causes in younger bitches. Hormonal birth control can also trigger mammary tumours.



Mange is a parasitic skin disease caused by microscopic mites. Two different mange mites cause skin disease in dogs. One (the Demodex mite) resides in the hair follicles, while the other (the Sarcoptic mite) lives just under the surface of the skin. Sarcoptic mange which is very common in street dogs, causes immense suffering to the animal-intense itching, hair loss, sores, dehydration, debilitation, secondary bacterial infections and eventual death from sepsis

Even the most horrendous cases of mange can be successfully treated. Ivermectin is an effective treatment.

Click here to see 'before' and 'after' pictures of two dogs treated for mange.



Rabies is a viral disease transmitted to humans from animals. Dogs are the main reservoir and transmitters of rabies. It is invariably fatal.

Sri Lanka is among the top ten countries in the world that report the highest rate of human rabies deaths. Children are the highest risk group.

Thousands of strays have been seized and slaughtered in the name of rabies in Sri Lanka throughout the years. The fear of rabies compounds the alienation of strays and pets.

Rabies preventative treatment in Sri Lanka costs 300 million Rupees annually. 

Historically, low vaccination coverage in the resident dog population and ineffective and inhumane management of the stray dog and cat population has resulted in little progress to date. Despite more recent initiatives, the threat of rabies remains.

Animal SOS Sri Lanka will be working with the Sri Lankan authorities to implement an effective rabies control model. 

With a strategic rabies control programme in place, Sri Lanka could become rabies free.

This little puppy on the right died of Rabies

Case Story - 'SUKI'

Suki was rescued from the streets of Colombo in November 2007 by Kim and Morag. This very ill, emaciated and anaemic puppy presented with all the clinical symptoms of Babesia, which was confirmed with a blood test-the strain being Babesia gibsoni. We funded Suki's veterinary treatment and managed to find a wonderful home for her with an Italian couple living in Colombo (At the time we did not have our own land and clinic)

Suki struggled for life for many months suffering recurrent relapses-fever, weakness, anaemia, and collapse. In an attempt to cure her she was given an anti-malarial drug which is not widely available in Sri Lanka. We are pleased to report that Suki (renamed Viola by her devoted owners) has now tested negative for Babesia and is a happy healthy dog. She is a lucky girl to have been rescued in time and to have survived such a serious disease.


We visited Viola and her loving owners in Colombo some months later and it was wonderful to see the progress this courageous dog had made. Viola remembered us (as they all do) and gave us a wonderful welcome-racing around furiously with excitement in contrast to that sick and lethargic little puppy we had rescued months earlier. Viola is now living in Venice with her owners and we hope to visit her there one day.

A happy ending for another stray.

Mammary Tumours

Mammary tumours are extremely common in cats and dogs that are not spayed. In dogs approximately 50% of mammary tumours are malignant and in cats approximately 80%. Spaying before the first heat cycle significantly reduces the risk of cats and dogs developing mammary tumours.

The best prognosis is through early detection and treatment-which is not an option for stray cats and dogs.




During our work in Sri Lanka we have found that many strays suffer from a cocktail of these blood parasites and more common diseases.  

suki1   suki2
suki3   suki4

Click on a picture to enlarge