Stepping in dog droppings is a nuisance and one of the more irritating aspects of life. But what few people know is that dog faeces may also contain several different kinds of disease-causing parasites. Reason enough for Frank Künzel from the Clinical Unit of Internal Medicine and Barbara Hinney and Anja Joachim from the Institute of Parasitology at Vetmeduni Vienna to launch a study to investigate which endoparasites (parasites that live inside their host) can be found in the faeces of Viennese dogs.
The aim of the representative study was to assess for the first time the prevalence of endoparasites in dogs in the Austrian capital. The study also sought to answer the question whether the density of dog populations and the cleanliness of dog zones correlated with parasite occurrence.
The research team collected more than 1,001 anonymous canine faecal samples from 55 dog zones from all 23 districts in Vienna by taking faeces lying on the ground of selected dog zones or from waste bins near the dog zones. An additional 480 faecal samples were collected from the Mödling district and from the town of Wolkersdorf to have samples from regions with a peri-urban and rural character, respectively.
Parasite infection in Viennese dogs lower than expected
Compared to other European studies the faecal samples from Vienna revealed a relatively low prevalence of parasites. In contrast, dogs in the rural region had a significantly higher level of endoparasite occurrence.
Another important finding was that faeces that was not removed by the owner was more likely to contain parasites. “This could be related to differences in hygiene awareness among dog owners,” says Hinney. The study did not reveal any correlation between a high density of the dog population and higher endoparasite infection rates in the dog zones under study. One reasons for this could be that many dog owners in the urban areas remove their dogs’ faeces from the ground.
The study also shows that the rate of endoparasite infection in Vienna is relatively low in a European comparison.
A danger for children, immunocompromised people and animals
Endoparasites can cause diarrhoea, weight loss and other problems in dogs. Additionally, some of the parasites, such as roundworms, are zoonotic agents with medical relevance for small children and persons with a weakened immune system.
Dog owners should also remove canine faeces dropped out in nature and especially in agricultural areas, as these places are used for the production of food for livestock. Dog faeces might also present a danger to livestock and horses. If these animals consume infested feed, parasites may be transmitted that couldbe detrimental to their health.
“Poop bags” reliably protect people and animals
The authors of the study recommend that dog owners should be better informed about the zoonotic risk and encouraged to remove and properly dispose of dog faeces to reduce the risk of infection for dogs and humans as well as other animals. Hinney: “Collecting and disposing of dog faeces is not only about removing unsightly excrement. It is also an important contribution to human and animal health. Dog owners, in the city or in rural areas, should always have a ‘poop bag’ with them and they should use it.”
Due to the dynamic nature of incidence and diversity of parasites excreted by dogs, the research team also recommends representative sampling and monitoring for parasite surveillance.
The article “Examination of anonymous canine faecal samples provides data on endoparasite prevalence rates in dogs for comparative studies” by Barbara Hinney, Michaela Gottwald, Jasmine Moser, Bianca Reicher, Bhavapriya Jasmin Schäfer, Roland Schaper, Anja Joachim and Frank Künzel was published in Veterinary Parasitology.
About the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. The Vetmeduni Vienna plays in the global top league: in 2018, it occupies the excellent place 6 in the world-wide Shanghai University veterinary in the subject "Veterinary Science". www.vetmeduni.ac.at