Tapeworm in the news – Echinococcus Multilocularis

A ‘new’ species of Tapeworm – Echinococcus multilocularis – affecting dogs and wild canids has been getting lots of attention in the news recently due to its seriousness and it’s potential to infect people and pets. It is sometimes referred to as the Fox tapeworm. A recently published study has shown that the parasite may be more prevalent in Ontario than previously thought.

So, what is Echinococcus and how worried should we be?

• First, Echinococcus is only one type of tapeworm that infects dogs and cats – so if you see tapeworm segment(s) on your pet or their stool, don’t panic – it probably isn’t Echinococcus but do bring the sample to your veterinarian for analysis and to get Tapeworm medication for your pet.
• Tapeworms in general are different than other parasites in that eggs can be difficult to pick up on routine fecal exams and treatment requires a different type of medication than other intestinal parasites such as roundworm or hookworm. Most often Tapeworm are treated with a medication called Paraziquantel.
• Echinococcus is a tapeworm that infects wild canids (foxes, wolves, coyote) but can also infect domestic dogs and even cats on occasion. They get infected by eating infected small mammals. The adult worms live in the intestinal tract and eggs are shed in the feces.
• The small mammals get infected with the tapeworm egg by coming in contact with the feces of wild or pet dogs and the eggs hatch in their intestine. The larvae migrate to the liver where they form cysts. Pet and wild dogs become infected when they eat the small rodent with the cysts.
• The risk to people (and occasionally pet dogs) is when they accidently ingest (eat) the Tapeworm egg and it hatches into larvae in the intestinal tract – the larvae travel to the liver where they form huge cysts over a 10-15-year period. Treatment is difficult – the disease is almost 100% fatal.

The risks to Dogs are twofold:
1. Dogs that eat infected rodents could establish patent infections ie they cold develop adult worms in their intestine that shed eggs and potentially put people and other pets at risk.
2. Dogs that (accidentally) eat or ingest infective Tapeworm eggs could, like people, be at risk of developing the cysts in the liver – which is almost always fatal

So, how worried should we be? The truth is, at this point there are a lot of unknowns from both the veterinary and the human health perspectives. It is now a reportable disease and there is increasing awareness – there will likely be more cases and more information coming.

What can owners do?

• If possible, don’t let your pet hunt or eat other animals or offal.
• Routine fecal exams for your pet are always a good idea – even though tapeworm eggs don’t always show on a regular fecal floatation – if we do see them, we can treat for them. If you see tapeworm segments on your pet or their feces – let us know!
• Pick up your pets’ stool right away to minimize contamination of the environment – wash hands thoroughly.
• Practice good hygiene – wash hands frequently, wear gloves when gardening or working with soil.
• Talk to us about the possibility of routine deworming with Praziquantel or other medication effective against Tapeworm for pets that may be at higher risk of if there are other reasons for concern such as the presence of immune compromised people in the home.
Be aware and educate yourself about the risks. Below are some links to more resources:

Worms and Germs Blog – this is an excellent resource for all pet owners!
“This site focuses on infectious diseases of companion animals (household pets and horses), with an emphasis on zoonotic diseases – diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people.”

Recent study Echinococcus multilocularis Infection, Southern Ontario, Canada