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A Vet's View – Neospora Caninum

Copyright S. P. Dean (printed with permission)

Have any of you heard of Neospora caninum? This is a question posed in an email sent to me by an AVV reader. What follows is an edited version of a real life lesson this reader wanted to impart to other dog owners. There are some AVV comments added.

“I went shopping at a supermarket early in the week. We purchased many items, but amongst them were two large packets of lean minced steak, that I intended to make my own burgers from. They were large packs, and on arrival home, we did not know what to do for tea, so suggested spaghetti bolognaise. I took about one third of the mince from one of these packets and all of the remaining meat was frozen for the weekend. My boxer (Cilla) came into the kitchen, I had not starting cooking then, so I removed some of the mince and gave it to her, she loved it.”

AVV comment – Most times feeding human food raw to dogs is OK but there are risks and neospora caninum is one of them. This is a single cell protozoan parasite that invades the nervous system but also many other tissues including muscle tissue and skin. It infects several ruminants and dogs. In cattle it is a cause of abortion but in dogs it has more sinister effects.

The email goes on: “This was a Tuesday evening, and by Friday, Cilla was starting to act strange. hanging her head to one side, and slightly falling as if she was drunk. Saturday she seemed to stabilise and I thought a little better, and thinking she had an inner ear infection started her on a course of antibiotic tablets three times daily, as the vet would. By Monday she was worse so was rushed to the vets. I was so upset, I could not remember half of what he said but he did say he was doing one particular test that had to be sent away. If it come back positive for Neospora he would start her on the antibiotics there and then, and he said the antibiotic I had given was good.

AVV comment – It really is not advisable to use antibiotic treatment without veterinary advice. In fact it is not legal to administer an antibiotic without it being prescribed by a veterinary surgeon. Had this diagnosis commenced on the Friday or Saturday this dog may have started more specific treatment some two days earlier and with Neospora infection early treatment is very important.

Back to the email – “She was a little better on Tuesday evening so was allowed home, still hanging her head to one side, and walking in circles and then falling over. We continued with the drugs, then Wednesday came and my vet rang to say the test results were positive. She was infected with Neospora. We then racked our brains how she could get this awful disease! Apparently very few cases are reported, because it is masked by so many symptoms.”

AVV comment – It is not so much the infection is masked, just that the symptoms of Neospora infection are similar to many different types of infection. For example, this email mentions ear disease and AVV recently covered meningitis and encephalitis, which has many causes. Usually neospora infection results in a progessive limb paralysis but as more and more of the nervous system is affected by invading parasites the symptoms can progress as seen in this case. The damage is not limited to the nervous system and, for example, the parasite can also infect the cells of muscle (including the heart) and skin cells.

The email continues – “Neospora is a parasite that is ingested from contaminated fresh meat, and it only takes 1-3 days for the parasite to attack the brain, then work its way down the spinal cord, and infect all the major organs and muscles leaving the dog paralysed and blind. At 9.30 yesterday morning I had to have my beautifull Cilla euthanased, to save further suffering.”

AVV comment – Neospora in most dogs will probably enter the body through eating raw meat. However an infected bitch can pass the infection on to her pups in the womb. This suggests not all dogs necessarily die from the infection and this in turn indicates immunity is possible.

This is perhaps illustrated in the remainder of the email – “Neospora mostly appears in cattle herds and it is usually more common in Costa Rica, South America, but is gradually showing up everywhere. Very few cases were reported last year and the symptoms range from a weakness and paralysis of the forelimbs, drunken type behaviour, altered behaviour, blindness, head tilt, head nodding, tremors, seizures, sudden death due to heart inflammation, pneumonia and skin abnormalities. Frightening isn’t it? It can only be ingested from fresh meat, as freezing will kill the spores as will cooking. Neospora can not use humans as a host so if ingested the stomach will kill the spores, so don’t worry there. It only affects, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, but has now moved to dogs, and research on the internet suggests all dog breeders should be aware of this parasite. From the onset of ingesting the spores, my dog was dead within 81/2 days. She was my constant house companion, and our hearts have been ripped apart. How many of you, when in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal, give some fresh meat to your dog. Cilla was 16 months and four days old, when she died. “

AVV comment - Neospora is a worldwide parasite and thus more widespread than this reader’s (internet-based) research has suggested. However the information on freezing, cooking and risk to humans is all quite correct. Pigs are not known as potential routes of infection and the dog is not only a known host but also the primary agent in the spread of the parasite. However we do not know enough about Neospora yet but the youthful age of this poor dog is significant as it is usually young dogs, puppies and those with poor immune systems (the elderly and those on immune suppressive treatments) that are most likely to suffer this sort of fate. Our emailer has suffered dreadfully from the discovery of this disease. The attempt to draw it to other people’s attention is laudable and thus the reason this information is provided here.

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