Recently, you might have heard some talk about a relatively unheard of tapeworm that has found its way into the province called Echinococcus multilocularis and might be wondering what it means for you and your dog.
First of all, it is important to know what is Echinococcus multilocularis. Simply put, it is a tapeworm associated with wildlife.
Figure 1 highlights the lifecycle of this tapeworm:
As you can see, foxes, coyotes, domestic dogs and the occasional cat act as definite hosts where the adult stages develop from larvae and produce eggs. These eggs are then shed in the feces. In the normal cycle, rodents pick up these eggs when coming into contact with the feces and these will hatch into larvae in their system. These rodents then get consumed by the foxes, coyotes, and dogs to complete the cycle.
Dogs can be infected with this tapeworm as well and not show any clinical signs that indicate infection, but be actively shedding eggs in their feces.
Why are we so concerned about this tapeworm?
The main concern is that humans can become infected with this parasite. If humans come into contact with infected feces, there is a chance of passing on the infection. This route can also cause infection in our pet dogs. Infection through this route is called alveolar echinococcosis where the parasite creates tumour like growths in the liver and can affect other organs including the brain and lungs. Signs associated with this include weight loss and enlarged abdomen. A big issue is that we don’t realize there is an infection until its later phase. For humans, this can take anywhere from 5-15 years before symptoms even appear. Surgery is then required to remove these tumour like growths if possible since success often depends on early detection.
Another issue is that current fecal tests are not very reliable in detecting this parasite in feces.
How can you prevent infection?
* Always wash your hands with warm soapy water after handling any animals or coming in contact with their feces.
* Try and keep your domestic pets away from any contact with wildlife or feces.
* Talk to your veterinarian about monthly deworming medication for your dog.
While this tapeworm can have detrimental consequences to your pets and your own health, simple steps like the ones above can help keep you and your family safe.