The Nasty Parasite You Need to Know

April 29, 2019

Echinococcus Multilocularis. This parasite has been in the news and has veterinarians raising awareness with pet owners living in areas with a high risk of exposure.

So, what is Echinococcus Multilocularis? What’s the risk? What are the symptoms of exposure? And what can you do to prevent exposure and protect your pets?

What is Echinococcus Multilocularis (E.M.)?

Also known as the fox tapeworm, E.M. is an increasingly common type of tapeworm that is carried by foxes, coyotes, and other small mammals. Considered fairly new to Canada, there are two strains of the parasite to be aware of. The European strain is known to be more virulent in humans than the North American strain, and while the North American strain has been confirmed in Western Canada, the strain currently present in parts of Ontario has yet to be identified.

So, what’s the risk to your pets?

The parasite is spread by coyotes and foxes who eat infected rodents. Dogs (and in rare cases, cats) that consume coyote or fox feces containing the parasite’s eggs or animals that may hunt and eat infected rodents themselves, can develop a serious infection called alveolar echinococcosis (A.E.) as a result of ingesting those eggs.

A.E. is a very severe and sometimes life threatening infection that produces tumour-like growths in the host’s body, particularly in the liver. It is rare, but humans can also contract A.E. as a result of ingesting the E.M. parasite themselves.

What are the symptoms of exposure?

What makes the E.M. parasite particularly dangerous is symptoms of alveolar echinococcosis can go largely undetected for years in dogs or human hosts. Over time, the parasite aggressively attacks the liver which can be difficult to detect before the symptoms become life threatening. This is why vets are taking all precautions with regard to E.M. exposure and awareness.

What can you do to prevent exposure and protect your pets?

Fear not, pet parents. There are many ways to protect our pets and ourselves from this nasty parasite:

1. Treatment: While tapeworms are not generally treated with regular immunizations, there are a variety of treatments available including praziquantel.

2. Avoidance: Avoiding high risk areas is an obvious way to avoid exposure. But, if you live in or regularly visit a high risk area, keep your pets on a leash to ensure they don’t ingest anything while enjoying the great outdoors.

3. Monitoring: If you’re worried that your pet may have been exposed to E.M. regular fecal exams may reveal the presence of the parasite and allow you to catch an infection before it becomes life-threatening.

For more information on E.M., visit the University of Guelph’s Worms & Germs Blog and check out this handy infographic from the Ontario Animal Health Network.

If you have questions about E.M., treatment options for your pets, or questions about parasites and treatment in general connect with a vet today from the comfort of home!

Get the answers you need from an expert you can trust!