Your dog can get infected with a type of parasite that could kill not only the pooch itself, but potentially you too.
The tapeworm in question is known as Echinococcus multilocularis, and requires two mammalian hosts to complete its lifestyle. The adults will latch onto the intestinal wall of their primary host, which tends to be wild canines such as coyotes and foxes, although domestic dogs and cats can also fill this role, until they are ready to release their eggs. These then pass through the canine and are excreted in their feces.
This is where the secondary host comes in, which is usually a rodent like a rat. Rodents ingest the eggs, which then typically develop into larvae in the liver, but also lungs and other organs, in multiocular cysts or tumors. It is only when a canine then consumes an infected rodent that the larvae then get back into the primary host, where they mature into adults in the intestine and start the cycle all over again.
Humans, however, can take the place of the rats and mice if they happen to ingest the eggs found in the feces of foxes or coyotes. Typically those most at risk include people working closely with these animals such as trappers, hunters, and vets, but the infection can also occur if someone eats herbs or berries gathered from the wild. Pet owners, however, need to be careful too, particularly if your dog or cat is frequently eating rodents in regions where the parasite is found.
This usually happens not by hugging your pet (so no need to give up those snuggles), but rather from infected environmental factors, such as food and water. This means that you really should be mindful of washing your hands with soap and water after cleaning up after your pooch or kitty, although you should really be doing that anyway.
When people are infected, known as alveolar echinoccosis, the parasites tend to form cysts in the organs slowly, meaning that it can be years before people get diagnosed with the infection. Typical symptoms include pain and discomfort in the chest, weakness, and even unexplained weight loss. The symptoms can even be confused with liver cancer. While this infection can be deadly, it is necessary to note that it is also very rare.
What is also now becoming apparent, though, is that in some parts of North America – namely British Colombia, Western Canada, and Ontario – domestic dogs can become the secondary hosts, too. The strain that is infecting these dogs is now known to originate in Europe, and is seemingly already well established in wild animals across much of Canada.
Basically, in order to prevent your dog, or even yourself, from becoming infected, you should try to keep your pet clear of any areas where wild foxes or coyotes have done their business, get them wormed if they eat rodents, and always wash your hands and any wild food that you might have collected.
[H/T: The Conversation]
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