It seems like a large part of taking care of pets is working to keep them parasite free. From ectoparasites like fleas and ticks, to blood-borne parasites like heartworm and intestinal parasites, it’s a tough job.

While we have a pretty good handle on most of these monsters inside, some of them can be nastier than others. Echinococcus multilocularis is one of the more worrisome parasites, and is being diagnosed with increasing frequency here in Canada. Not to worry, though – your friends at Summeridge Animal Clinic are here to help!

Getting to Know You

Echinococcus multilocularis, also known as the fox tapeworm, is a parasitic worm less than 1 cm long that most often resides in the small intestinal tract of wild canids such as coyotes and foxes. Occasionally it will also complete its life cycle in the dog.

When this parasite is functioning normally, its eggs are shed in the feces of the canid host and are ingested by rodents. The eggs then hatch and migrate into the tissues of the intermediate rodent host, developing tumor-like cysts in a condition called alveolar echinococcosis. If the rodent is then eaten by a wild canid, the parasite can grow into an adult within the canid gut, and the cycle continues.

Problems occur when other species besides rodents ingest the eggs from the feces of the wild canid host. Alveolar echinococcosis can develop in these aberrant hosts, which can include pet dogs and even humans.  When this happens, severe organ damage can occur due to cyst formation.

Echinococcus and Pets

Echinococcus is a big concern for pet owners for two reasons. Firstly, if pet dogs serve as a definitive host and shed the eggs in their feces, they can become a source of infection to the people around them. Otherwise, if they serve as an intermediate host and develop alveolar echinococcosis it can make them very sick, often with liver disease.

Prevention of echinococcus in pets helps to prevent it in people as well. Echinococcus multilocularis appears to be spreading, previously being endemic in the Canadian arctic. It has recently been diagnosed more and more in Ontario.

So what can you do to protect your pets and yourself?

  • Allow us to perform fecal examinations on your pet as recommended throughout the year. This helps us to identify parasite infection and treat accordingly.
  • Do not allow your pet to hunt or scavenge other animals, especially small rodents.
  • Keep cats indoors to prevent rodent exposure.
  • Pick up pet feces promptly.
  • Use good hygiene when handling feces.
  • Ask us if your pet is a good candidate for periodic tapeworm deworming.
  • Use gloves and wash hands when working in the dirt.
  • Be extra cautious if you, a family member, or pet is immunocompromised.

Echinococcus is a scary parasite, but thankfully not very common. Keeping this problem on our radar and taking a few extra precautions will likely keep you and your family safe. As always, we are happy to aid in your four-legged family’s health in any way we can.