Many households around Britain today would not be complete without one of its members, or perhaps even more than one, being a dog. These noble, honest and immutably faithful companions, that so many of us feel compelled to live with, bring us an immeasurable amount of pleasure. They hold no animosity, they don’t bear grudges and they don’t criticize. This non-judgmental member of the family will sit and listen when you talk to it, like a non-intervening psychiatrist, letting you say what you want to say, and what you need to say.
We feed our dogs the best food, we ensure that they get regular exercise, we look after their health. We make sure that they are comfortable and do our best to look after their every need.
But for all this, are you a responsible dog owner?
For all the pleasure that we get from our companion, there is one task that some dog owners can’t bring themselves to do, or perhaps don’t feel that they need to do, the simple task of cleaning up after their dog once it has defecated.
Like many people there is nothing I enjoy more than a walk through our beautiful country side, along our spectacular beaches or along the Pembrokeshire coastal path. However the one thing that saddens me, or should I say disappoints me, is the amount of dog faeces that owners have left, not only at the side of footpaths, but actually on the path, or on the beach, with no attempt being made to clean it up. How many of us have ended up with faeces on our shoes, or even worse, on our children’s shoes, which has required cleaning off. But dog faeces, that some owners see fit to leave, also has hidden dangers, for it carries zoonotic infection, a roundworm parasite, known as Toxocara, which causes toxocariasis in humans. This unpleasant, and in rare cases, dangerous infection, is spread via the faeces of infected dogs.
In simple terms, the roundworm parasite lives in the digestive system of dogs and cats. The worms themselves range from 4cm to 12 cm in length, but it is the eggs that they produce that cause us the problem. These eggs leave the infected animals through their faeces and then contaminate the soil or ground on which the faeces lay. When other dogs sniff and smell discarded faeces, then the parasite is transferred from the host to other animals, this being the reason that we need to ensure we worm our pets regularly.
So how can this parasite infect humans? If we were to touch ground that had been infected, and then placed our hands into our mouth, then the egg of this parasite could be ingested. This could be dismissed as an unlike scenario, but think of children playing down the local park, or on the beach, or sitting on a grassy bank along the coast path. Children will put their hands on the floor, especially play in the sand on the beach, and children will put their hands in their mouths, more so the younger they are.
Once in the human body toxocara can manifest itself in different ways, and the symptoms of Toxocariasis can vary depending upon where in the body the infection occurs. There are three main types of toxocariasis:
- Covert toxocariasis
- Visceral larva migrans
- Ocular larva migrans
Covert toxocariasis is the most common and mildest form of infection. Its symptoms include abdominal pain, cough and/or a headache.
Visceral larva migrans develop when large numbers of the parasite spread through different organs of the body, such as the lungs, liver or heart. The main symptoms include fear, abdominal pain and a shortness of breath.
Ocular larva migrans in the least common, but potentially the most serious, type of toxocariasis. This condition can develop if the roundworm parasite moves into the eyes. It is attracted by soft section at the rear of the eye, and can result in permanent loss of sight, although only one eye is usually affected.
However, toxocariasis is a rare condition, with an average of ten cases occurring each year in England and Wales. Studies have shown that many people have toxocara antibodies in their blood, which does indicate that they have been exposed to the parasite, although their body has successfully dealt with the infestation. Due to their habits, as already explain, toxocariasis usually affects children aged between one and four years old, but cases have been recorded in people of all ages. The parasite is easily treated through medication, and most people will make a full recovery without any long term complications.
With modern advances in treatment of this parasite, the potential risk of permanent damage to vision is now a very rare complication, but one that has not been eradicated all together.
A report by the National Health service on this subject created one person to post on their web site ‘Due to how rare toxocariasis is we should invest more time looking at the dangers on the road and not concern ourselves with this condition’. The response to this by a mother whose daughter had been affected was very poignant. She simply stated ‘Yes it is rare, but it will affect my daughter for her whole life. I can teach her to be road safe, but it is too late for her eye.’
There is one section of society that can help eradicate this condition, we dog owners. We can simply clean up after our dogs. Local councils take their responsibility seriously, there are numerous bins provided, and posters are placed on the bins to remind dog owners that dog fouling is not allowed. Most of you will already clean up after your dog, but there are still so many dog owners that don’t see the need. Please ensure that you are you a responsible dog owner.