8 August 1997

Keep disease risks low

THE farm dog can be a well-loved pet or a trusted worker. But it can also be a potential source of disease.

Too often on farms, disease prevention in dogs receives scant attention compared to the other livestock. This is despite their roles as guardians, rat catchers, shepherds and the rest.

Dogs are at risk from picking up infections from the wildlife or livestock they come into contact with. For instance foxes can infect dogs with sarcoptic mange. This can be passed on to most farmed animals and humans.

Dogs can be infected with brucellosis from eating infected cows afterbirths or by tapeworm, causing hydatid disease, from eating dead sheep.

Like other livestock, dogs are susceptible to roundworm infection. As with farm livestock a programmed approach to worm control in dogs is necessary.

A rigorous programme is needed to deal with parasites such as worms or the protozoan infection giardia. But it only requires one infected dog to put the rest at risk. This, coupled with the ability of roundworm eggs and giardia to remain viable for a considerable time in the soil requires a thorough and effective worming programme.

In infected dogs, symptoms of parasitic infection often include vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea, as well as a loss of weight and condition. Cleaning up of faeces and the use of quaternary ammonium disinfectants in kennel areas, can help to control roundworm and giardia challenge.

Unhealthy dogs also present a risk to the people living and working on the farm. Worms, giardia, mange and ringworm can all be passed on to humans. For example, hydatid disease from dogs can infect humans. It is always serious and potentially fatal.

Children are at particular risk, with most parents claiming to be aware of the dangers. However, few realise how real the threat is, as children and dogs share a love of the same places.

Children pick up worms and protozoa by hand to mouth contact after touching an infected dog or being in a contaminated area, ie where an infected dog has defecated.

Parasitic infections in healthy adults may go unnoticed. If symptoms such as diarrhoea or gastro-intestinal upsets do occur they are rarely diagnosed. (Approximately 100 cases of toxocariasis are reported in children annually.)

Ringworm is well known and readily transmissible from many farm animals including dogs to humans. Although not particularly dangerous, it can be extremely unsightly and distressing particularly as exposed areas like hands and feet are most commonly affected.

Good personal hygiene is a must for all. Always wash hands with soap and water before eating – a practice still overlooked on many farms. The real key – as in so many areas – must always be prevention.

Look after your farm dog because not only can the dog suffer, but so can everyone else. If in doubt your veterinary surgeon will provide details of how to keep your dog healthy and minimise the risks.

Geoffrey Mackey