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    The Hydatid Tapeworm
    The hydatid tapeworm whilst not dangerous to dogs, is potentially very dangerous to humans. It is a tapeworm that exists in the organs and bodies of particular animals in the form of a cyst. These cysts primarily form in the animal’s liver and lungs and are also found in the kidneys, heart and spleen. If a dog is in close contact with a carrier animal, they can indeed pick up the hydatid eggs on their fur and ingest them into their digestive tract, which will then be eliminated in the faeces.

    As so many dog owners have very close contact with their pets, it’s important to know how the hydatid tapeworm is passed from animals to humans, and how this potentially harmful pathogen can be easily avoided. It is also beneficial to note that cats do not carry the hydatid tapeworm.

    Unfortunately many dog owners, once they know about the potential risks of the hydatid, chose to feed their dogs either commercial diets or a homemade cooked diet. This is not good news for their dogs health long term, as a raw diet, with some basic consumer rules can be so incredibly effective without any risk of the hydatid tapeworm.

    There are several ways in which the hydatid tapeworm can infect humans. The people that are most at risk are farmers, hunters with hunting dogs and consumers who purchase meat that has not been inspected and passed as fit for human consumption.

    Farmers who allow their dogs to eat the raw offal from dead sheep in particular, are at a potential risk of the dog picking up the tapeworm. In sheep approximately 90% of the cysts are infectious. The dog can also pick up the tapeworm from the wool of the sheep.

    Once the dog is carrying the tapeworm, the eggs or cysts can be transferred to their unknowing owner in the following example:
    1. A sheep dog with hydatid tapeworm, eggs on the fur and in the digestive tract

    2. Dog faeces contain millions of eggs

    3. Faeces dry and the eggs go into the soil

    4. Cattle and sheep graze on the plants growing from the contaminated soil

    5. Once inside the sheep and cattle, the hydatids form their cysts mostly in the Lymph, Lungs, Heart, Spleen and Kidneys
    6. These very resistant eggs lay dormant waiting to be ingested by a carrier animal

    7. The contaminated dead animal’s raw offal is fed to the dog or sold as uninspected animal offal

    8. The infectious dog has close contact with his companion

    9. The hydatid tapeworm is passed into the human body

    Cattle, sheep, kangaroo, wallabies, foxes, dingoes and pigs all potentially can carry the hydatid tapeworm. The sheep is known to be the most dangerous carrier, whilst cattle are the least dangerous due to their hydatid cysts being not infectious. Animals that are not known to carry the hydatid are chickens and rabbits. Rabbits may have what appear to be hydatid cysts, however these are another species of tapeworm and are not a serious threat to humans.

    Interestingly, farmers in New Zealand and Tasmania have been banned from feeding raw offal to their dogs and are being educated to follow a regular worming program. Hunters who are in close contact with their hunting dogs should also take the same precautions, as the animals they are hunting are mostly carriers of the hydatid tapeworm.

    If the hydatid tapeworm eggs do find their way into the human body they usually pass from the intestine, through the intestinal wall and into the circulation. Most commonly, they end up taking residence in the liver and lungs whilst also posing a threat to the other organs and eyes.

    The hydatid whilst being potentially dangerous to humans poses no threat to us if dog owners, take the following precautions:

    - Buy meat from a butcher or supermarket that has been inspected and approved for human consumption
    - Any suspicion a dog could have consumed contaminated offal, they can be wormed with ‘Praziquantal,’ known as Drocit or Drontal available from a Veterinarian.
    - Hydatid cysts are very visible on fresh offal as raised white bulges on the surface of the organ.
    - Know that a dog that has been in close contact with sheep or out hunting in the bush could potentially carry the hydatid tapeworm.

    In conclusion the hydatid tapeworm is not a major problem to the average, vigilant dog owner, especially if you don’t live in the country. As long as we purchase high quality, human grade fresh meat and offal and remain aware of what our dog consumes, there is little need for concern.

    Reference:
    Billinghurst, I 1993, ‘Give your dog a bone,’ Warrigal Publishing, Australia.

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