Dog fouling is a major concern to many people, not just because of the mess it causes, but because it can be a health risk. Dogs may deposit roundworm eggs (toxocara canis) in their faeces, which become infectious after about three weeks, and can remain so for up to two years.
Anyone, but particularly children playing near to the ground, can run the risk of picking up and swallowing the eggs. The eggs then hatch in the intestine, burrow through the intestine wall into the blood stream and pass into the body.
Possible symptoms of toxocaral infection range from aches, dizziness and nausea to asthma and pneumonia, but as these symptoms can all be caused by other things, infections often go undiagnosed. In the UK there are around 100 cases of toxocariasis diagnosed each year.
In rare cases eye disease and loss of vision can be caused when the toxocara larva passes through the eye.
Are cats also a danger?
It is very rare that cats are the cause of toxocariasis. Cats can also carry the eggs (toxocara cati), but because of their habit of burying their faeces in earth or sand rather than on grass, humans are less likely to pick up the eggs.
Dogs are also more likely to be walked in places where children play, such as parks and playing fields. Sandpits should be kept securely covered when not in use.
Cats can also cause toxoplasmosis, which is a different condition.
What's the solution?
Dog owners can help to reduce the danger of roundworm infections in four ways.
Don't walk your dog in areas where children play.
Train your dog to do his business at home - the Pet Advisory Committee suggest setting aside a designated area of your garden, using a command word before he goes to the toilet and praising him when he finishes. More information can be obtained from the Pet Advisory Committee or RSPCA - see the other contacts page for more information.
If your dog uses a public area or pavement, always "scoop the poop" using either a designated poop a scoop, nappy sack or plastic bag - turning it inside out to seal the faeces inside. Either dispose of in a designated dog bin provided by the council, or if unavailable, double wrap and dispose of as normal. If you don't clean up after your dog, you're risking a £25 on the spot fine or £1000 maximum penalty if you have to appear in court.
Worm your dog at least every six months with tablets obtainable from the vet, pet shop or larger branches of supermarkets. Some district councils will also supply worming tablets at a reduced rate. Puppies and pregnant bitches should be wormed more frequently - ask your vet for advice. Remember dogs with roundworm infections may not show any symptoms, so your dog should be wormed whether he looks healthy or not.
Cat owners can also help to reduce the likelihood of infections by worming their pets regularly and providing a litter tray. Cats can also be trained to use one area of the garden.
Solutions for parents
Firstly and most importantly, don't get rid of your pets! Just be careful when you or your children handle animals. You can do this in the following ways:
- wash hands before eating and after handling your pets
- use separate utensils for feeding your pets, and clean separately
- keep an eye on your children's regular play areas - speak to your district council if there is a problem
- check sandpits are kept properly covered when not in use