Dog Owners urged to join fight against spread of Neospora parasite in cattle

September 2010

Dog Owners urged to join fight against spread of Neospora parasite in cattle
Bruno on Bowscale Fell
Photo: Mike Knipe

Responsible dog owners in towns and cities are used to clearing up after their doggie friend. But what about when out on the hills or fells? It's reasonable perhaps to assume that in the wilder outdoors - as long as it's not actually left where a person is likely to step in it - dog poo can be left to degrade along side the excrement of sheep, cows, horses and ponies.

Well, not according to vets who have been working recently with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) on ways to reduce Neospora infection in cattle.

Neospora (or Neospora caninum) is a parasite found in dog faeces and cattle can become infected with this parasite by eating grass that has been fouled by dogs. Once infected, a pregnant cow is likely to abort her foetus or to produce a calf that is already infected. Infection has also been shown to give rise to a reduction in milk that's not related to abortion.

Whilst there is no risk to humans eating meat or drinking milk from an infected cow, the economic consequences of even one infection in a herd are significant, as Andy Barrett a vet from Kingsway Veterinary Group in Skipton who has worked with YDNPA on this problem explains.

"Just one incident of a cow eating some of these eggs can have a huge impact on a whole herd - and a farmer's future livelihood."

"If cattle are infected during pregnancy, the result can be abortion, birth of a weak calf or birth of a normal-looking calf that is infected for life. These calves then transmit the parasite across the placenta to all their offspring for the rest of their lives and these offspring are themselves up to seven times more likely to abort."

"Once introduced into a herd, the parasite is spread very efficiently to calves and the involvement of dogs is no longer necessary."

Worryingly, it appears that this infection - for which there is no known treatment - is increasing. Andy Barrett's Skipton veterinary practice has seen two farms where there have been 21 reported cases in the last six months compared with only 4 in the whole of last year.

"We would ask all owners to clear up after their dogs wherever they foul - not just on footpaths."

Obviously this raises the question of what a dog owner can do with the faeces for the duration of the walk - there are not going to be disposal points out on the hills or fells. Perhaps a poo-filled bag dangling from a backpack is a small price to pay?


“This would only occur if your dog had worms / parasites in the first place. Responsible owners would actually regularly treat their dogs for fleas / worms / parasites. The comment regarding the dog fouling in a bed of nettles as opposed to the path ~ I do not know of ANY dog that would go in a bed of nettles. If you have ever seen a dog that has accidentally been in nettles, the poor thing is in agony and would get badly stung on it's soft belly, needing something like Piriton to counteract the stinging effect. Neither would any dog I know be able to wait for the toilet on a 15 mile or longer walk. The answer is, if you have any doubts, to pick it up. If you have to walk 15 miles with it hanging from your pack, then so be it.”

Polly G, Stonehaven


“As Chris Bibby said train your dog properly and when you take it on your trek it's not a problem. I've got a GSD and since she's been 3 months old she has been trained to go on command at set times in the day. If a set time co-incides with the planned excursion then you pick it up and take it with you. Perfumed nappy bags are ideal. But as I say we set out after Rover (not her real name but but an alias to protect the innocent) has done her business and she doesnt need to go again until the next trained set time, which on short 4 hour type treks is when we get back. No such thing as bad dogs just cant be bothered owners”

Alan Burns, West Malling


“As the wife of a farmer with public footpaths through our land I am disgusted at the ammount of dog fouling and the attitude of people when confronted with a request to clean up after their dog. Comments such as "why should we, you do not clean up after the cows" and "It is not your land you are only a caretaker" only serve to infuriate farmers. Having said this most "ramblers/walkers" are not to blame it is the local village residents who are primarily at fault, using the fields as their dog toilet and exercise area.”

Maureen Blackburn, Ripon


“We have had dogs for many years and have always picked up after them no matter where we are. I do not want to tread or sit in the stuff and nor does anyone else. Farmers and Landowners should not have to put up with the problem and it's no wonder that dog owners these days have a bad name. I am out and about a lot and as far as I can see, most of the dog owners these days don't pick up in rural and remote areas, on footpaths etc. so it's not just a case of a few tarring the rest. Most are too selfish to think about anybody else. Ok it's a bit inconvenient carrying a sack of excrement but if one wants to take a dog out then thats the price. The same goes for letting dogs off leads to frighten the nesting birds and other wildlife. A lot of dogowners are either ignorant of the problems or plain don't care.”

Ges Brown, Christchurch


“It is possible to train a dog to 'go' in a place of your choosing. I don't have a dog now, but when I did own one, I could point to a suitable place such as a roadside bed of nettles where no-one could walk and tell him to 'be a good boy'. He knew not to perform anywhere else. I think sometimes that there is no wonder that farmers regarded dog-walking ramblers as a public nuisance and I hated it when they tarred us all with the same brush.”

Chris Bibby, Scarborough


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