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Little Tapeworm, Big Trouble

There has been a new parasitic threat in the news lately. Echinococcus multilocularis is a very tiny tapeworm that has historically been found in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and in the Canadian Arctic. The first case of an infected dog in Ontario occurred in 2012, with more cases occurring in the past few years.

The tapeworm, which measures between 1- 4 mm, causes severe illness in dogs and humans (and some other species as well). The tapeworm is normally found in the gastrointestinal tract of wild canid species, such as foxes and coyotes. The intestinal worm doesn’t cause much of a problem, but the concern arises when the parasite forms tumour-like cysts in other areas of the body (particularly in the liver). This condition is called Alveolar Echinococcus and is extremely difficult to treat. Treatment involves daily lifelong medication and/or surgery and still has a poor prognosis.

Since alveolar echinococcus has been diagnosed in several dogs (with no history of travel outside of the province) in southern Ontario, the concern is that the E. multilocularis has established itself in the region. Which is a serious threat to our four-legged companions and a serious public health risk for humans. A recent study proved that these concerns are legitimate. The study analyzed the stool samples from hundreds of wild canids, and a whopping 23% were positive for this parasite.

Dogs that are prone to eating feces or rodents are at the highest risk of exposure. Humans are at risk when they come into contact with infected feces in the great outdoors. Wild canids are not just found in forests and remote areas anymore. Now that coyotes and foxes live in urban now, so there’s lots of opportunity for exposure.

There are things we can do to minimize our risk of exposure to this nasty worm. Avoid contact with wild canids and their feces. Routine deworming is always a good idea, but now we should ensure that our pet dogs are being dewormed with something that works against tapeworm. I have recently adopted a dog (as many of you know) and our favourite pastime is going for long hikes in the woods. My dog loves to explore the wooded areas in the region, and I would never want to prevent him from enjoying everything the north has to offer. I want to make sure he stays safe and to minimize his risk (and mine), I deworm him once a month. It is a simple and easy way of keeping him safe while allowing him to enjoy the great outdoors.

Ask us about deworming and keeping you and your dog safe!

Written by: Shanon Chase, RVT

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