Fox tapeworm infection in dogs
The fox tapeworm is a type of tapeworm found in Europe, but not in the UK. The tapeworm is found in America, central Asia, Japan and China. Its scientific name is Echinococcus multilocularis. This infection is a zoonosis, meaning that it can transmit between humans and animals. Infection with the tapeworm is called ‘echinococcosis’. It can be life threatening if left untreated. Thankfully we do not have this type of tapeworm in the UK. However, there are strict rules on worming animals before entering the UK to prevent its introduction into the UK. There are many other types of worms that can also infect dogs (including hookworms, roundworms and whipworms), only a few are considered transmissible to people. Our vet shares their advice to keep you and your pet safe.
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What are the symptoms of tapeworms in dogs and cats? Can my pet become unwell from the fox tapeworm?
Dogs and cats tend to only get mild symptoms from tapeworms. Weight loss and gastro-intestinal irritation causing vomiting and/or diarrhoea are the most common but usually only seen with large numbers of worms. In extreme cases worms can cause gut obstructions but this is very rare. If they are infected you may see worms in your dog’s poo but often they are completely asymptomatic (show no signs). Tapeworms often look like grains of rice in your dog’s poo (a ‘grain’ is a tapeworm segment).
Make sure you are using flea and worming treatment for your dog as recommended by a vet to prevent infection and protect yourself and your family. Often a second or separate worming treatment is needed to specifically kill tapeworms as combination products often only kill round/ hook and whipworms. Your vet will most likely prescribe your dog worming tablets, such as Milbemax or Drontal, to treat and prevent worm infestations. It is important to consider other parasites such as fleas, mites and other worms as part of your dog’s flea and worming treatment to give all round protection. Puppies are particularly at risk of worm infestations as worms can be transmitted in the womb and via milk, therefore deworming your puppy is very important.
How can I prevent tapeworms in dogs and cats?
Do not allow your pets to eat small rodents as this is a common route of transmission.
Regular worming with praziquantel (4 times per year in dogs) is important to prevent tapeworm burdens in dogs that could be hazardous to human health
Avoid taking your pet abroad - Echinococcus multilocularis is not found in the UK and therefore avoiding travelling with your pet avoids the risk. If you must take your pet abroad, ensure compliance with regulations for travel, which is currently to worm with a product containing praziquantel between 24 hours and 120 hours (1 to 5 days) before entry back into the UK. You should treat your dog again within 28 days of returning to the UK
How do humans get tapeworms?
Humans become infected via ingestion of tapeworm eggs. Eggs are shed in the poo of an infected animal. This usually happens by ingestion of water, food or soil contaminated with animal poo or by direct contact with the infected animal. There are several animals involved in the life cycle, including herbivores such as sheep, carnivores such as foxes and small mammals such as rodents. Domestic dogs and cats can also act as hosts and can bring the parasite into close proximity with humans.
What are the symptoms of tapeworms in humans?
The fox tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis) causes parasitic tumour-like lesions often starting in the liver. Over time it can spread throughout the body to other organs including the brain and lungs. If left untreated, it can be fatal. In humans it usually takes 5 to 15 years before there are signs of disease. Signs include fatigue, liver failure, weight loss and abdominal pain.
How can I protect myself and my family from tapeworm infection?
Hand washing - Ensure proper hygiene at all times, using soap and warm water. Particularly after contact with wild and domestic animals. Hand to mouth infection is an important route (transmission of eggs from unwashed hands on to food items or directly to the mouth)
Take extreme care eating any foraged berries, greens or other items. Any wild picked food items should be properly washed and prepared to prevent transmission
Do not touch any wild canids (e.g. wolves, foxes, coyotes). If you must make sure you have proper protective clothing such as plastic gown and gloves, and wash your hands/clothes appropriately afterwards
Do not encourage wild canids to come near domestic settings and do not keep wild animals as pets
Can echinococcosis (tapeworm disease) in humans be treated?
Treatment often involves a combination of surgery and medication to remove parasitic tumours and kill any remaining parasites. Early radical surgery can be curative but as most cases are only detected when advanced it can be terminal.
Please note: if you have healths concerns about you or your family please speak to your GP.
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