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Interview with My Veterinarian

Echinococcus multilocularis is prominent in the news right now; having been discussed on CBC recently. After hearing about this, I started to worry about my furry babies.

So, I dove in and started researching – part of what I found can be found below. Dr. Albright was kind enough to help me to fill in the blanks! Asking an expert is always preferred to Doctor Google.

What is Echinococcus multilocularis?
A small tapeworm that primarily inhabits the intestinal tract of wild canids (i.e. foxes and coyotes). These were trouble makers also go by another name, “the fox tapeworm.”

Dr. Albright-Walker: “Yes, Echinococcus multilocularis is a type of tapeworm. This tapeworm has come to Ontario in the last decade. It has been in Canada’s western provinces for far longer. ”

How is it transmitted?
I read that the adult worms don’t usually cause an issue BUT, when the worms lay eggs, they’re shed from the body (via the host’s stool). Therein the problem lies! Small rodents (like mice) ingest those tiny eggs. Then our pets go outside to hunt up some fun and end up with a tasty (egg riddled) snack (said mouse).

Dr. Albright-Walker: “This part is a little confusing. The life cycle of this specific tapeworm follows two pathways. Its common pathway involves mice – a dog eats a mouse and gets into the gastrointestinal tract; this is not necessarily a huge problem at this point. The abnormal situation is where the dog eats stool with that tapeworm egg in it. And because it’s not the normal host for that egg, it winds up in the liver and gets developed into all the problems being talked about in the media.”

Why is it an issue for my pet? Could it affect me?
I had trouble understanding this part. I learned that my pet risks getting alveolar echinococcus but I was lost at this point. Online it says that alveolar echinococcus is “tumour-like parasitic cysts” that develop in certain areas of my pet’s body. Can you clarify?

Dr. Albright-Walker: “If we become infected, it has the potential to turn into a cyst that acts as a tumour. It is very difficult to diagnose because of timing, so treatment is usually lifelong medication. The same situation can also happen to our pets. Our concern as vets is two-fold; one for your pet, and second, for you. If numbers build up in animal populations, it’ll increase the risk of human exposure.

What are my treatment/prevention options?
Dr. Albright-Walker: treatment is based on the severity of tissue affected so it would be tailored on a case by case basis. Prevention is avoiding exposure or preventing infection. Avoiding exposure is don’t let your dog eat someone else’s poop, specifically coyotes. Prevention of infection is by using monthly deworming treatments. However, Echinococcus multilocularis requires specific anti-parasitics that are not in routine preventatives.

Although Echinococcus multilocularis hasn’t been identified in our area yet, the article states that there could be 0-25% chance of your pet contracting the disease. This value is hard to interpret our true risk considering the severity of the disease; dogs at high risk should consider prevention.

Written by: Melanie Hamilton, CCR

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