The killer worm in South Africa - Spirocerca Lupi
- by DR Roxanne Jones
Vets advise that you deworm your dog regularly because there are many different types of worms that can infect dogs. Generally, there are five main types of worms that can affect your dog such as roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms and heartworms. One of the nastiest and deadliest of these is a roundworm known as the Spirocerca Lupi.
What is Spirocerca Lupi?
Spirocerca Lupi is a worm that completes its life cycle in dogs and causes severe, potentially life threatening diseases. Your fur friend can pick up this worm from eating beetles or small animals such as mice, rats, lizards or birds. These little animals can carry worm larvae which your dog ingests when eating them. The larvae are released into your dog’s digestive tract, after which they move through the intestinal walls and into your dog’s bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the worm larvae will migrate through out your dogs body resulting in disease.
How does it cause disease?
The most common path for the larvae is to move from the intestines to the aorta which is a large blood vessel, where they burrow through the walls of this blood vessel, weakening the walls and causing aneurisms. From the aorta they move back to the oesophagus (slukderm) where they form large nodules inside the oesophagus. They then grow into worms and lay eggs.
Nodules within the oesophagus are initially small and grow bigger with time. As these lumps start to grow bigger, your dog may show bouts of fever, vomiting or regurgitating food due to difficulty swallowing, poor appetite, weight loss or lethargy. Some dogs become anaemic because some nodules may bleed, which can cause a very dark or even black stool due to the presence of blood in the stool. These nodules may turn cancerous and the cancer can spread to the lungs. Sudden death can occur if an aneurism in the aorta ruptures, causing your dog to bleed out in seconds.
How is it diagnosed?
The ideal method for diagnosis is endoscopy, which means placing a camera into the oesophagus in order to visualise the nodules and worms. This is the best method for diagnosis as it can diagnose your dog early on in the disease process, making treatment more successful. Chest X-rays can also be helpful later on in the disease process. Faecal floats can be done using special techniques to find worm eggs in the faeces but this can be difficult to do.
How is it treated?
Once your dog has been diagnosed, the appropriate treatment will be decided by your pooch’s vet. The treatment process is lengthy, initially starting with daily or weekly treatments for 6 to 8 weeks, then moving onto monthly treatments for several months. If your dog is left untreated it will eventually succumb to the disease. The earlier the treatment is started, the more successful it is.
What do I do if one of my dogs has been diagnosed but I have others at home?
The ideal situation would be to scope each of your dogs. If this is not possible due to financial constraints then your dogs can be placed on preventative medication, if they appear healthy.
Preventative medication is ideal for all animals in the household. Especially if one dog has been exposed to this nasty worm, then there is a chance that your other dogs may have also been exposed.
How do I prevent it?
Using spot on treatment such as Advocate or deworming using Milbemax tablets on a monthly basis is a fantastic preventative measure. Removing faeces off the lawn regularly will help to reduce the amount of beetles being attracted into the garden, helping you reduce the chance of your dog accidentally ingesting a beetle. These preventative measures can help to safeguard your precious dog not only from the dangers of the Spirocerca Lupi worm but also against the threat of some of the other nasty types of worms.
This disease can progress very slowly and symptoms may seem mild in the beginning but if left untreated it can result in severe, life threatening disease. If you notice any unusual symptoms in your pet, rather be safe than sorry and have your pooch pay a visit to their vet.