Dr Platzhund answers a reader’s question about preventing dogs from being infected by a fatal worm called Spirocercalupi.
Q: I’ve just visited KZN and was shocked to learn about the alarming increase of a worm in dogs, called Spirocercalupi, in the area. I’ve learnt this internal parasite is fatal for dogs. What can I do to prevent my pets from getting this disease?
A: The usual cause of death from this migratory worm is the formation of cancer in the oesophagus, or food pipe, in dogs. In most cases the condition is only noticed when it’s often too late, and the symptomatic dog will start to vomit soon after eating, because of the growth containing Spirocerca, which obstructs the passage of food. The parasite enters dogs after they’ve eaten beetles that carry an immature form of the parasite. The worm enters the stomach wall, and can remain there for a lengthy period of time, then enters a blood-vessel to migrate within the blood stream until it reaches the heart. From here the worm migrates over a long period of time through the wall of the aorta across the great divide into the wall of the oesophagus where one or many worms establish themselves. Initially they become surrounded by scar tissue which is sometimes infiltrated by a bony type material forming a malignant cancer. Surgical removal is an option, but expensive with possibilities of complications and a fatal outcome depending on how large the growth is. In the very early stages of growth development in the food pipe, or even presence of worms in the stomach wall, the sensitivity of certain dogs may allow for much earlier identification. Once this worm is confirmed, monthly injections by a veterinarian will help kill the worms, reduce the complications and save the dog. A topical remedy available at vets can be applied to the skin on the nape of the neck on a monthly basis from early puppyhood to adulthood. The spot-on remedy also prevents fleas, ear mites, mange, roundworm, hookworm and whipworm. If your dog has ticks and tapeworm, then you may have to alter remedies, but using the advised product for all of your dog’s life is your only option of prevention.