Worming dogs can make you money

03 June 2016

Sheep measles can cost lamb producers nearly $1 million a year in carcase trimming and downgrading, but a solution to this issue lies in the kennel, not the paddock.

A recent survey by MLA and Charles Sturt University revealed that producers are not worming their farm dogs as regularly as is required to break the lifecycle of tapeworms (Taenia ovis).

Dogs and sheep both carry different stages of this parasite, but without an ovine vaccination or drench currently available in Australia, the best bet is to treat man’s best friend.

MLA R&D Project Manager for Animal Health, Welfare & Biosecurity, Dr Johann Schröder said dogs carrying tapeworm can contaminate pastures, transferring the parasite to sheep.

“Sheep measles present in lamb carcases as small spots in the muscle, around the size of a match head. These spots are actually cysts caused by the tapeworm,” Johann said.

“Although there is no risk to human health, the spots are not aesthetically appealing so are trimmed during processing and the carcase is downgraded in value.”

If more than five cysts are found in one body, the whole carcase is condemned.

The survey of more than 200 producers showed that on average, farm dogs are being wormed around twice a year. Even the old recommendation for controlling hydatids of treating every six weeks is too long for effective sheep measles control.

Johann said deworming dogs is a simple process, which should be scheduled every four weeks to break the 35-day life cycle of tapeworms.

Tips for an effective canine deworming strategy

  • Worm every four weeks – mark the timing on your calendar so you don’t miss a treatment.
  • The tapeworm remedy, praziquantel, is available off-the-shelf (no prescription required) in a range of brands.
  • Worm all dogs, including household pets and working dogs.
  • Avoid feeding dogs raw offal/meat from sheep, which can contain tapeworm cysts.
  • Don’t rely on visual cues as a dog with tapeworms won’t necessarily display behaviour that indicates it is time to treat them.

An effective worming regime will also target two other varieties of tapeworms in dogs – ‘false hydatids’ which can cause liver damage in sheep (although there is no financial penalty at processing) and the more serious hydatids which also present a risk to human health.

Wild dogs are another, often ignored, host for the tapeworm so diligent control is necessary to not only reduce predation, but also minimise contamination of pasture and the transferal of parasites into sheep.

Be mindful that dogs brought onto your property by contractors could also transmit tapeworms to the flock.

Did you know?

A similar condition – beef measles – occurs in cattle, however humans are the host for that variety of tapeworm.

More information

Johann Schröder E: jschroder@mla.com.au

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