Tiny tapeworms on the rise: Are you and your pets infected or at risk?
Echinococcus multilocularis is a tiny tapeworm – an intestinal parasite of arctic foxes and red foxes that can also infest the intestines of coyotes and other canids, including domestic dogs.
In humans, the tapeworm causes a disease known as alveolar echinococcosis – but infection is very rare. Recently, however, a combination of factors has made this diagnosis more common, especially in Europe, and vets are concerned.
Domestic Pets and Echinococcus Multilocularis
Domestic dogs and cats can both harbor E. multilocularis, but the European Scientific Council Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP) writes that “In contrast to dogs, where it is common to find eggs in the fur of infected animals, no eggs have been recovered to date from the coat of an infected cat.”
In order for a dog or cat to become infected, it would have to eat an infected rodent. Many dog owners feel confident that their beloved pooch would never swallow a rodent, including this writer. However, when I spoke with Dr. Andrew Peregrine of the Ontario Veterinary College, he assured me that a lot of dogs do hunt, and that urban foxes can spread the parasite to urban rodents and thus to domestic dogs.
Dr. Peregrine also worries about recent dogs found to have the liver cysts – a surprising finding since cysts usually only occur in the intermediate host. It’s a grave finding for the dog, and while a liver cyst wouldn’t be transmitted to a human, Peregrine says that a quarter to a third of these dogs have tapeworms in the intestine as well. That’s a concern for anyone in contact with the dog.