Once again Canadian journalists are talking about coyote tapeworms and the risks they pose to pets and their owners. Many people are worried and have been contacting Clappison Animal Hospital for more information.
In the Northern Hemisphere the “coyote tapeworm” is Echinococcus multilocularis. The problem is that the definitive hosts, red foxes and coyotes, are interacting more and more with pets due to urban sprawl. This allows an increased risk of spreading of disease and parasites between the species.
Infected animals shed the tapeworm eggs in their feces, which are then eaten by small rodents such as mice and voles. These animals are considered intermediate hosts as they do not complete the lifecycle. Instead, the eggs form into cysts which grow killing the rodent or making it vulnerable prey. If foxes or coyotes eat them then the lifecycle is complete. Dogs and cats can be infected by consuming intermediate hosts and can shed already infective eggs in their feces. Humans can then become infected through accidental ingestion of infective eggs or contaminated meat.
E. multilocularis in people is a much more dangerous problem than in canids because it causes alveolar cysts. These are slow growing, highly invasive and infiltrative and can resemble malignancies. The most commonly affected organ is the liver, but they can end up anywhere including the brain or spinal cord. Unfortunately mortality rates are high in infected people.
The good news is this is still a rare incidence in North America. Our pets are much more likely to have the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum which is from grooming and ingesting fleas. And these are not transmissible to people from dogs. The other tapeworm seen is Taenia species, after pets consume prey species like mice. This is also not transmitted to people.
If you see small, beige rice-looking segments around the hind end of your pet or in their bed contact your vet at Clappison Animal Hospital for medication (Praziquantel) which is effective against all types of tapeworms. And practice good hygiene when handling your pet’s feces. Use a plastic bag or scoop to keep the material away from your skin. And afterwards wash your hands with soap and water.
By: Jennifer Merry BSc (Agr) DVM