VET’S DIARY: Scoop that poop

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OVER the last few months there have been a number of articles in the Gazette about that most unsociable of habits – failing to scoop the poop after your dog has defecated in a public place, writes Dominic Plumley.

In truth, it shouldn’t make a bit of difference as to whether the poop is on the pavement or in your own back yard and here is why.

In general the advice that we give to pet owners is taken on board in good faith and followed with the obvious benefits to the dog or cat concerned.

However, in certain instances – and worming is a pretty good example of this – some people are inclined to take the view that what we are recommending is nothing more than a thinly-veiled excuse to sell some extortionately-priced medicines.

Particularly in the case of worming, this couldn’t be more wrong. Of course, I would say that and undoubtedly there are large numbers of dogs and cats that do not receive regular worming treatments and many of these are apparently perfectly healthy and well. However, the fact that they are not sick doesn’t mean that they don’t have worms.

There are a plethora of different types of gastro-intestinal worms that are commonly found infesting domestic cats and dogs; roundworms (Toxocara species), hookworms and tapeworms to name a few. All of these can cause significant disease in young animals and it is not unusual for us to see stunted, potbellied kittens and puppies when they are presented for their first vaccinations.

Thankfully, most of these quickly recover when treated with the appropriate anthelmintics, though the results of the treatment can be quite dramatic when large numbers of the now dead worms are passed out in the faeces.

The nature of a good parasite – if that is not a contradiction in terms – is to be able to live its own life and reproduce without significantly harming its host. After all, if the host dies then the parasite no longer has a host!

To this end most adult dogs will survive apparently unaffected with significant worm burdens. The real problems come when the parasites infest different hosts that they have not evolved or adapted to and here’s where we come back to the poop scooping.

Many of the common dog and cat worms, such as the toxocara roundworms, can cause much more significant disease in humans.

An infected dog will produce thousands of worm eggs in every poop and these can lie dormant in the environment for considerable periods of time until accidentally ingested by an unsuspecting new host.

Much publicity is given to the consequences of children becoming infected, the worm eggs developing into larvae that literally migrate through the body and become lodged in the optic nerve causing blindness.

Children are particularly at risk because they tend to stick their fingers in their mouths without washing them – combined with the fact that they play in areas where people walk their dogs it is easy to see how they may ingest the worm eggs. That said, disease is certainly not exclusive to youngsters with large numbers of people of all ages affected in a number of different ways every year.

Worms are not the only problem. Other gastro-intestinal diseases such as giardiasis are also transferred in the faeces, either from animal to animal or from animal to man.

Speaking from personal experience having contracted this disease – caused by a tiny protozoan parasite – while open water swimming in France a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.

It may sound obvious but if all poops were immediately bagged and binned then this wouldn’t be a problem.

Being a pet owner brings with it considerable responsibility. The benefits of pet ownership, in my view are unquestionable, however, just as most of us would consider it unacceptable for our dog to randomly and unprovoked go and bite someone, it should be remembered that the potential harm is just as great if we leave their poop un-scooped.