What’s lurking in Australian dog parks?

dog parks and intestinal worms

This article is sponsored content brought to you by Boehringer Ingelheim.

Dog parks represent an ideal opportunity for dogs to be dogs; to run about and socialise in a safe environment while at the same time also providing their owners the chance to mix with other like-minded dog owners. However, as is the case with any location where animals congregate in numbers, dog parks may increase the risk of exposure to various infectious or parasitic organisms. Of particular concern in dog parks are canine soil-transmitted helminths, including roundworm, hookworm and whipworm.  These worms may not only have an impact on animal wellbeing, many of them also have an impact on public health due to their zoonotic potential.  

To better understand the risk of exposure of dogs and their owners to these parasites, a research team from The University of Melbourne, led by Professor Rebecca Traub, recently investigated the prevalence of canine soil-transmitted helminths in dog parks around Australia.1 The study involved the collection of 1,581 faecal samples from 190 different parks across Australia and analysing them with faecal flotation and PCR for the presence of the eight known canine soil-transmitted helminths in Australia. 

This study highlights the high prevalence of canine soil-transmitted helminths, most of which have proven zoonotic potential, in dog parks in urban Australia. Education to raise awareness of responsible pet ownership, including the importance of monthly deworming, is essential to minimise the animal and public health risks associated with these parasites.

Professor Rebecca Traub, Professor of Veterinary Parasitology, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, The University of Melbourne. Founding Director,Tropical Council for Companion Animal Parasites (TroCCAP)

dog parks and intestinal worms

The study showed almost half (42.6%) of parks sampled were contaminated with at least one species of canine soil-transmitted helminth, with on average more than 1 in 10 faecal samples (12.7%) testing positive.  Hookworm was the most prevalent parasite detected in this study (10.2% of samples), with Ancylostoma caninum the most common and widely distributed hookworm species found. Whipworm was the next most prevalent parasite in this study, detected in 1.3% of samples with a wide geographic distribution. This study also demonstrated one of the challenges associated with diagnosing whipworm using faecal flotation as, despite being performed by expert parasitologists, over 75% of positive samples detected with PCR were missed on faecal flotation.  Threadworm (Strongyloides spp.) was found in 1.2% of samples, and roundworm in 0.7%. Worm prevalence and species breakdown varied across different climatic zones as shown below.  Scan the QR code to learn more about the study and implications for your parasite control programs.

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Massetti, L. et al (2022) Faecal prevalence, distribution and risk factors associated with canine soil-transmitted helminths contaminating urban parks across Australia. Int J Parasitol. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2022.08.001

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