Echinococcus multi-locularis is a tapeworm that has become more prevalent over the last few years in Alberta. It is zoonotic, meaning that if it is ingested by humans the worm can find its way to the liver and act like a slow moving cancer. There are no early symptoms and can go unnoticed for years until the infestation has grown and damaged the liver, sometimes beyond repair.
How can your dog become infected? Rodents that are infected with the eggs are eaten by coyotes or foxes where the eggs develop into adult tapeworms. If a dog eats coyote feces containing tapeworm eggs or an infected rodent they can also become infected and eggs will be present in their feces. Although this tapeworm is rarely harmful to dogs and coyotes it is harmful to humans.
How do you become infected? The most common way is from eating unwashed fruits and vegetables that are contaminated with eggs. Handling soil or your pet without washing your hands after are also possible ways to become infected as the eggs are passed through the feces. If you eat or touch your mouth without washing your hands it is possible to ingest the eggs.
What can you do to prevent yourself or your dog from getting infected? The good news is that transmission is preventable! Don’t allow pets to wander freely and unobserved as they may capture and eat infected small rodents or eat fecal matter. Pick up the fecal matter as soon as possible in your backyard and in parks. Wash your hands after handling a pet or soil. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. Always wash hands before eating.
It is recommended to regularly deworm your dog. Dewormer available from your regular veterinarian will prevent your dog from shedding the eggs in their feces which will help prevent transmission to you. For more information on the recommended deworming protocols please refer to our blog.
Written by Leah Sandberg ,RVT