There is an emerging public health concern in Canada regarding a parasite called Echinococcus multilocularis:
• It is a tapeworm that lives in the small intestine of foxes, coyotes, wolves and dogs. They can become infected when they eat an infected rodent (who has cysts in their lungs).
• Infected canines will shed eggs in their feces which pose a significant health threat to ‘accidental hosts’ such as humans and domestic dogs.
• A human or dog who accidentally ingests the eggs can develop parasitic tumours (cysts) in the liver, lungs, brain and other organs. These tumours grow slowly (over 5-15 years) but are almost always fatal.
Who is at risk?
• People and pets are at risk of developing the tumours associated with Echinococcus multilocularis when they ingest (accidentally swallow) eggs found in the feces of wild canids (fox, coyote, wolves, feral dogs) or domestic dogs that have the adult tapeworms living in their intestinal tract.
• Dogs are at risk of becoming shedders of the eggs when they eat rodents (dead or alive) that have the cysts in their lungs.
How do I know if my dog is infected?
• Routine fecal exams, while excellent for screening for other intestinal parasites, unfortunately do not routinely pick up tapeworm infections. Dogs who develop unexplained tumours in their internal organs should be tested for the cystic form of the disease via a biopsy.
What should pet owners do?
• Because it is hard to detect who might be shedding the eggs, it is recommended that dogs who are at a higher risk of being infected (ie dogs that eat small rodents – dead or alive – or dogs that live in areas where the parasite is more common) be dewormed on a routine basis with a product that will kill any adult tapeworms in the intestinal tract.
• Many heartworm and flea products are effective against other intestinal parasites but they are not effective against tapeworm. Treatment for tapeworm usually involves using a product that contains praziquantel ie. Drontal® Plus (praziquantel/pyrantel pamoate/febantel) Tablets
• Don’t panic if you see tapeworm segments on your pet or on their feces (look like white rice segments, may or may not be moving). Most likely another species of tapeworm (Dipylidium or Taenia) – needs to be treated but not as much of a health threat as Echinococcus. Adult Echinococcus multilocularis worms are much smaller than other tapeworm and shed microscopic eggs rather than the segments seen with other species therefore, you are unlikely to see anything with the naked eye on your pet or their feces.
If your dog is a hunter, ie eats small rodents, talk to us about establishing a routine deworming program to minimize the risks to yourself, your family and other pets associated with Echinocococcus multilocularis.