This deadly disease could be killing your dog

SPIROCERCOSIS, also known as ‘the silent killer’, is caused by an infestation of Spirocerca Lupi worms which are spread from dog to dog in their faeces via small dung beetles.

As the number of dogs being diagnosed, especially in the Gauteng region, increases – experts are warning pet owners that the condition could be life-threatening.

The worm settles in the pet’s oesophagus after a long journey through the body. On its way it causes serious damage which leads to diseases of the intestinal, respiratory and circulatory system.

‘Early diagnosis is extremely challenging due to non-specific clinical signs,’ said Sister Julia van Draanen of the Valley Farm Animal Hospital in Faerie Glen, Gauteng. ‘In most cases it will only be diagnosed in the advanced stages and thus when oesophageal nodule formation has already occurred causing symptoms like vomiting, regurgitation, weight loss, increased salivation, the inability to swallow and painful swallowing.’

‘Prevention and early detection is essential for treatment to be effective.’

The worm’s life cycle begins with the adult parasite living within lumps (nodules) in the wall of the oesophagus. The female worm then drills a hole through the nodule and lays her eggs into the lumen of the oesophagus which is then excreted in the dog’s vomit or faeces.

The egg infected excretions then serves as a meal for dung beetles. The larvae then emerge in the stomach of the dog once the beetle or any of the other carriers have been ingested. The larvae then bore through the stomach wall and move along the small blood vessels where it will reach the oesophagus via the aorta after three weeks. It then stays there for three months until it becomes an adult worm.

According to Van Draanen the increase of these worms in urban areas is due to a corresponding increase in green belt areas and lush gardens which create favourable conditions for the carrier of the parasite- dung beetles.

They can also live in animals that prey on dung beetles such as mice, lizards, birds, and rabbits.

‘This does not mean you have to get rid of your beautiful garden but it is necessary to keep your garden free of dog faeces. Dung should ideally be removed from the garden on a daily basis, or weekly if you have a very busy schedule.

‘It should then be placed in municipal waste bags to ensure removal from the property. Fence off any dung containing compost heaps and monthly application of Advocate in non-infected dogs is also recommended to protect your dog from the silent killer,’ she said.

Treatment involves a series of Doramectin injections or the use of topical antiphrastic called Advocate. Unfortunately there is no treatment for cancerous nodules or aortic aneurysms. However, surgical removal of cancerous nodules can be attempted after a CT scan has been done.


Source: Pretoria East Rekord

Tameem Cajee

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