The fox tapeworm, known to the veterinary world as Echinococcus multilocularis, is a small tapeworm with big consequences. This tapeworm is not only a concern for your pooch, but for you as well. Let’s start by examining the complicated lifecycle of this parasite and how it spreads.
Infection begins when the tapeworm eggs are shed into the environment by a fox, coyote or dog, contaminating the surrounding vegetation. Small rodents, such as mice and voles, eat the tapeworm eggs which develop into the next life stage of the parasite that migrates to other organs (especially the liver), resulting in the development of tumour-like lesions in their organs. When one of our four-legged friends ingests an infected rodent, the tapeworm attaches to their small intestine, develops into the adult worm over the next month, sheds eggs – and the cycle continues. It’s at this point that humans can inadvertently contract the tapeworm by coming into contact with the tapeworm eggs through feces or on their dog’s hair coat. Dogs can also ingest eggs when they are self-grooming, or if they have the lovely habit of poop-eating or scent rolling.
So how do I know if my pet has the fox tapeworm?
Infected adult dogs rarely show symptoms. Occasionally, dogs may show signs of irritation to their backside by chewing the area or scooting. While rare, it is possible for dogs to suffer the more severe, tumor-like effects of the parasite after ingesting eggs.
Your veterinarian can perform a test on your dog’s stool to check for tapeworm eggs however fox tapeworm eggs are shed intermittently so a single negative test cannot rule out an infection. If your dog may have ingested an infected rodent, eaten feces, or scent rolled in potentially-infected feces, immediate treatment is recommended. Consult with your veterinarian on the best treatment for your dog.
How do I know if I have been infected?
Symptoms in humans can take anywhere from 5 – 15 years before showing up, and it can be lethal – even with treatment. The most common sign of infection in the liver is weight loss, jaundice and abdominal pain. In the event that a human has been infected, treatment is much more difficult than for our canine companions; surgery or life-long medication may be required. Learn more here.
How can I prevent infection?
Dogs can be quick to find little mouse munchies and you may not even realize that they ate a rodent while out on a walk or in your backyard. Monitor what your dog is eating, especially if you are at a park or out in the wilderness. It is critical for you and your dog’s health and safety to treat them if it is even remotely possible they may have ingested a rodent. Dogs with a high risk of exposure to this tapeworm may require monthly deworming. It is VERY important to note that the deworming tablets most dogs take on a monthly basis do not prevent or treat the fox tapeworm. If you suspect that your pet has eaten a rodent, talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Studies from 5 years ago estimate the coyote population within Calgary’s city limits to be about 900 and that 0.5% of dogs are affected by this tapeworm. While that doesn’t sound like very many, there were 135,070 dogs licensed in Calgary in 2016 meaning approximately 700 dogs are infected.
There have been 10 human cases of Echinococcus in Alberta between 2013-2018.
If people are not treated, the infection is lethal 95% of the time. When treated, it still may be fatal in 12% of cases.
So be sure to promptly pick up feces especially if your dog just can’t resist the temptation of eating it.
Do your best to prevent your dog from rolling in feces, bathe them promptly if they do, and wash your hands after handling your dog if this occurs.
In the case of human prevention, be sure to wash your hands after poop scooping. Wash all fruits and veggies before consumption and take proper measures to ensure anything coming in from your yard to the house has been properly cleaned. For more preventative measure click here.
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