Hydatid tapeworms and dogs
Hydatid tapeworms have a life cycle that involves dogs as a primary host. Dogs shed eggs (tapeworm segments) in their faeces, which can then be picked up and eaten by secondary hosts (most commonly sheep in Australia although cattle may also – but much less commonly – be infected).
Once the tapeworm eggs are ingested they go through a lifecycle that eventually results in the formation of large, fluid-filled cysts in the liver, lungs, and other abdominal organs. These are known as hydatid cysts. The cysts are full of eggs and, if the carcass of the sheep is then eaten by a dog (or fox, dingo, wild/feral dog), and the cysts are consumed the life cycle of the tapeworm continues inside the gut of the dog.
Hydatid tapeworms and humans
The tapeworms are not particularly dangerous to the dog, and are easily killed by routine worming (using an all-wormer that kills tapeworms), but they do present a risk to humans. If a person accidentally becomes infected by the eggs in a dog’s faeces, then hydatid cysts can develop inside that person’s abdomen – again often in the liver – and they can become very ill or even die. That is why sheep farmers are particularly zealous in worming their dogs and never allow dogs to eat sheep carcasses or offal. In fact in Tasmania, where hydatid tapeworm have been eliminated, it is illegal to feed sheep offal to dogs and any dog visiting Tasmania from the mainland must have a vets certificate demonstrating it has been wormed seven days prior to travel.
Feed organ meats safely
This is one of the main reasons I always advise clients to purchase any organ meats from their butcher, as these meats have been through a thorough meat inspection process and have been deemed fit for consumption by people.
To be even more certain, you can destroy any possible parasite eggs or larvae by freezing organ meats (this also applies to regular muscle meats) at a temperature of -12’C or colder for a minimum of 14 days. The organ meats we utilise in Vets All Natural food products have been frozen at -16’C for a minimum of three weeks and have been through the meat inspection process. Cooking also destroys the parasites, but unfortunately, it also destroys much of the natural nutritional value, so we do not recommend this option.
Given that most hydatid tapeworms come from infected sheep, one simple suggestion is to make sure that if you purchase liver for your pets it is beef liver not lamb or sheep liver (also known as lambs fry). If you avoid organ meats from sheep, then you greatly reduce the chance of any exposure to hydatid tapeworm.
If you follow these simple rules you can continue to safely feed wondrously healthy organ meats and allow your pets to reap the benefits of this rich array of nutritional powerhouse foods.
Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons), Founder of Vets All Natural.
Dr Bruce Syme is a practicing vet and expert in natural pet nutrition, has spoken at the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, and provides regular comment on TV and Radio.
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bruce Syme, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended as medical advice, it simply shares the knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Bruce and his community. Pet health care decisions should be based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional.
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