A parasitic infestation of raccoon roundworms in dogs, is a condition that not many pet owners have ever heard of. Canine roundworms are a common infection, but infection of a raccoon roundworm is very uncommon. Of late, infection by Baylisascaris procyonis (raccoon roundworm), is seen affecting more and more pet animals like dogs and cats. What makes this infection quite unique is that raccoons are actually the primary host for these worms.
What are Raccoon Roundworms?
Baylisascaris procyonis is a nematode that generally inhabits the intestines of a raccoon. In its primary host, it causes little to no harm. It is thought, about 50% of all raccoons in North America are infected with these roundworms. However, the eggs or larvae of this parasite can also gain entry into the body of another animal such as a dog or a cat. The infected raccoon sheds the eggs and larvae in its feces. When these eggs are released out of the body, they start developing into an infective stage, when optimum conditions prevail. The eggs have an ability to survive for several years under any conditions, as long as the eggs get some moisture.
Raccoons are known to form latrines. These latrines are places where one raccoon will defecate. The scent of the feces will attract other raccoons and they will start defecating in the same place. This means several infected animals will defecate in the same place and this will be a breeding ground for roundworms. These latrines may occur anywhere under a log, over the roof, wood piles, under the trees, etc. These places are such that any pet could come across and get infected.
How does a Dog Get Infected with Raccoon Roundworms?
Raccoon roundworms remain viable for many years in the environment. Many times, other intermediate hosts like squirrels, rats, birds, etc. ingest the eggs or food contaminated with these eggs. Dogs get infected with raccoon roundworms by eating feces containing the roundworm or eating an infected intermediate host. Dogs have a habit of licking their coat and fur at times, and in the bargain they lick off the eggs that have stuck to their coat or the contaminated soil sticking to the fur. When they are grooming themselves, the eggs inadvertently get into their system and cause an infection.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Raccoon Roundworm Infection in Dogs?
The minute the raccoon roundworm egg enters a dog's body, it hatches into the larvae. The larvae causes extensive damage to the organs through which it moves or causes an inflammatory response. When the larvae hatches, it can lead to an intestinal infection and visceral disease. The larvae travel down to the intestines. Here, they develop further and start migrating towards other organs of the abdominal cavity (viscera). They can even travel through the nervous system and up to the eye. It is very common to see intestinal disease in adult dogs and nervous system disease in puppies. Some of the signs of raccoon roundworms in dogs is as follows:
- Loss of muscle coordination and unsteady gait (ataxia)
- Dysphagia (eating and swallowing difficulty)
- Recumbent behavior
The area where the parasite lodges itself leads to a particular infection. When the larvae migrates to the abdominal cavity it is known as visceral larval migrans (VLM). When it travels through the nervous system (brain and spinal cord), it is referred to as neural larval migrans (NLM). And lastly, when the larvae lodges itself behind the eye, it is referred to as ocular larval migrans (OLM). VLM leads to lung infections and liver diseases. The OLM infection is generally detected quite late and is usually apparent after the dog loses his/her vision.
How to Treat Raccoon Roundworms
There are no treatments as such available as yet for raccoon roundworms infection in dogs. The veterinarian will take some steps to treat the dog, but most of the time, it is too late for a possible cure.
Can I Prevent a Raccoon Roundworm Infection in My Pet?
Yes, there are plenty of things that will help you prevent an infection in your dog. Raccoon roundworm eggs are not active for about 3 to 4 weeks after they are passed in the feces. So fresh raccoon feces do not contain infective eggs. They become infective after the fecal matter disintegrates and the eggs are exposed. Thus, make sure you clean the surrounding areas regularly and if possible daily of the feces. Try and spot raccoon latrines and clean the feces as soon as possible. You can find them on woodpiles, under trees, even over the roofs and around the building foundations. You can get rid of any infected object like a toy or something similar by cleaning it in a disinfectant or bleach.
As you can see, prevention is the only cure for raccoon roundworms in dogs. This parasitic infection is affecting more and more dogs in the United States. This is a zoonotic disease, and can therefore pass on to humans as well. Make sure you, your kids and your pets stay away from raccoon feces as much as possible.