Study on parasites in dog faeces comes to surprising conclusion

A study by Vetmeduni Vienna showed that only few endoparasites can be found in the poo of Viennese Dogs compared to canines living in rural Areas. (Photo: Susanna Berger/Vetmeduni Vienna)

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A representative study conducted by Vetmeduni Vienna shows that the faeces of Viennese dogs contain relatively few endoparasites in comparison to canines in rural regions. Regardless of the actual level of parasite infection, however, dog owners are encouraged to always pay heed to hygiene – especially as some parasites represent a risk not only for animals but also for humans.

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.

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