Saskatoon

Parasite grave risk for dogs and owners, says U of S researcher

A University of Saskatchewan researcher has a warning for pet lovers - your dog could be carrying around an unwanted parasite and it could kill you.

Effort underway to make MDs and vets aware

The University of Saskatchewan says dog owners should be concerned about tapeworms. (Robert Short/CBC)

A University of Saskatchewan researcher has a warning for pet lovers — your dog could be carrying around an unwanted parasite and it could kill you.

We've had about 10 cases in dogs in western Canada.- Emily Jenkins

"There do seem to be human cases now appearing in western Canada," said Emily Jenkins in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.  

Risk is low for humans

Jenkins is talking about a small tapeworm with a very long name that can jump from wildlife to pets, and in rare cases, to humans.

"It's very invasive," she said. "It behaves like a tumour and can spread around inside the body. So it's important to get detected early and treated aggressively," she said.

That treatment includes surgery and lifelong drug therapy.

This photo shows the eggs of the small parasite that can cause big problems for both dogs and their owners, according to a U of S researcher. (Emily Jenkins)

The tapeworm is usually found in wildlife. There are unproven theories as to why, but Jenkins said it's clear that the parasite is finding success in moving out of the wild and into people's homes.  

About ten cases of tapeworms have been found in dogs in western Canada.

Prevention and education key

Since the parasite is already out there, Jenkins said the focus for pet owners should be making sure their dog doesn't bring it home.

University of Saskatchewan researcher Emily Jenkins is trying to let doctors and veterinarians know about the tapeworm so that it can be diagnosed quickly. (CBC)

There are some simple ways to do that. First, avoid letting dogs scavenge and hunt for rodents. But also, Jenkins said, be aware of your pets' bad habits.  

"If you know your dog is a fecalphile, a poop loving animal, then you can do something about that by regularly deworming and watching your dog for signs of illness."

Jenkins is also trying to make sure that doctors and veterinarians are aware of the risk to people and their pets so that it can be diagnosed and treated. 

About the Author

Danny Kerslake

Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.