California Pet Parents on Alert as Deadly Parasite Sparks Concern

Scientists are warning about a dog-killing parasite that that was believed to only exist in Texas and other Gulf Coast states has now been discovered as far west as California for the first time.

This parasite, a tapeworm commonly known as a river fluke, can cause an illness that impacts the liver and intestines of dogs which can lead to death.

USA Today reports that in a press statement, UCR nematology professor Adler Dillman said, "Dogs can die from this infection, so we are hoping to raise public awareness that it’s there. If you’re swimming in the Colorado River with them, your pets are in peril."

Related: Mystery Dog Illness Is Now Being Reported in 14 States

Scientists examined the waters in Riverside County after there were serval cases of infection reported in area dogs. The infection is usually transmitted through snails, so the research team collected more than 2,000 snails along the banks of the Colorado River and examined their DNA to identify the presence of the snails and the flatworm. The scientists found two species of snails that carry this parasite.

How The Fluke Worm Harms Dogs

<p>Eric Gevaert/Shutterstock</p>

Eric Gevaert/Shutterstock

Here's how this parasite works: It makes its way through the snail's body, and then traveling through its system. Once it transforms, it has 24 hours to find a mammal host like a dog or raccoon to infect because after that it's unable to survive on its own.

Dogs or raccoons acquire one of these worms via fresh water, whether it be from swimming in or drinking it.

A worm can enter into the veins of the intestinal lining, where it will mature, mate and lay eggs. The eggs then get into the lungs, spleen, liver, and heart, causing an autoimmune reaction.

Symptoms in your dog appear gradually, with signs like vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and profound weight loss. Emily Beeler, a veterinarian with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said in a statement, ""If your dog has these symptoms after swimming in the Colorado River, it’s a good precaution to ask your veterinarian for a simple fecal test,” said Beeler. “Treatment typically involves use of multiple medications and close monitoring of the dog by a veterinarian."

The bottom line? Be careful of taking your dog out for a swim in fresh water, even if this parasite has yet to be discovered in these waters and you don't see any snails. It's just far better to be safe than sorry, and if your dog does appear sick after taking a swim in a river or lake, take them to your veterinarian straight away.

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