Worms remain a public health risk as only half of Australians pick up dog poo in public

SONY DSCA survey which found that more than 1000 Australian dog owners found that only 56 per cent clean up after their dog in public is an important reminder to worm dogs regularly, according to a leading parasitologist.

The study, conducted by Milbemax, found that men were worse than women, with 11 per cent admitting they never pick up their dog’s poo in public compared to 7 per cent of women. The situation improves with age, with 70 per cent of persons aged 65 picking up poo in public, as opposed to 39 per cent of those aged 18-34.

Other key findings were that 41 per cent of owners waited one week or more to clean up dog faeces in their backyard. Around 72 per cent of dog owners admitted to allowing their dog to lick their face while 40 per cent admitted letting their dog sleep in the bed.

Charles Sturt University parasitologist David Jenkins said that failure to clean up after dogs was a public health issue. According to published figures, around 500,000 Australian dogs (roughly 15 per cent) have worms, although prevalence may be much higher in some areas.

“The most recent study of parasite infections in urban dogs [Palmer et al (2008) Veterinary Parasitology 151;181-190] showed the prevalence of infection with intestinal worms in urban dog pound dogs was 15.9 per cent and in dogs presented at vet clinics was 4.9 per cent,” Jenkins said.

“Some of my unpublished results of intestinal worm infections in urban dogs had a prevalence of between 15-20 per cent and prevalence studies in rural dogs, also unpublished, show a prevalence of intestinal worm infection in farm dogs up to 60 per cent.”

In some pounds with a large rural catchment the prevalence is up to 40 per cent.

“It just depends on where you look and how you design your study,” Jenkins said. “There is no doubt that the prevalence of infection in rural dogs is higher than urban dogs, this just reflects their life style and the fact that there is often less veterinary input in this group of dogs.”

That means that veterinarians should make recommendations about worming frequency based on individual lifestyle and risk factors of each dog.

Jenkins believes that the prevalence of infection in urban dogs increases the risk of transmission of worms to humans.

“There are more people in close proximity to dogs in towns and cities and few open places to exercise dogs and these areas are also shared with people for their recreation,” he said. “This sharing of the same space gives a greater opportunity for human inhabitants of urban areas to come into contact with dog faeces with the chance of direct infection with canine intestinal worms via their eggs or larvae.”

According to Jenkins the transmission of canine intestinal worm eggs to humans is a game of chance, but the more faeces in the environment, the greater the chance.

“Therefore it is important to encourage dog owners to collect their dog’s faeces and dispose of it responsibly and to de-worm their dogs regularly with an all-wormer.”

Jenkins recommends treating urban dogs every 3-4 months, extending the interval up to six months depending on the type of dog, its lifestyle and diet. Rural dogs with access to roadkill, carcases in paddocks or offal of livestock or wildlife should be dewormed every 4-6 weeks with an all-wormer containing praziquantel.

While a Queensland study demonstrated pyrantel resistance in hookworms, Jenkins said the extent of roundworm resistance in companion animals remains unknown.

“There is no doubt that [resistance] does occur,” he said.

He stressed the importance of weighing dogs prior to treatment to avoid under-dosing, and rotating products with different active ingredients to reduce the risk of anthelmintic resistance.

“Resistance of tapeworms to praziquantel has so far not been demonstrated.”


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