‘Clean up’ dog walkers urged

First published in Farming Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by

WEST Yorkshire farm has seen 11 cows abort their calves in only three weeks due to a parasitic disease passed on by dogs.

Now the North-East NFU has urged dog walkers to clean up after their pets – even when walking in the countryside.

The devastating cases of the parasitic disease Neosporosis occured on on a dairy farm in Barkisland, near Halifax. The disease is caused by a single-cell parasite called Neospora caninum and affects mainly cattle, dogs and other canids such as foxes, although it can also affect sheep, goats, deer and horses.

The life-cycle of the parasite requires both dog and cattle hosts, but it only reaches full maturity and begins to reproduce in its canine host.

Once transmitted to cattle, it can result in abortion or the birth of premature, impaired or infected calves.

There is no vaccine and no treatment. The only way of eliminating it from a herd is to cull infected animals.

The farm in Barkisland has experienced one or two cases over the past three years, but the situation has reached critical point recently with 15 heifers aborting their first calf in the past few months and 11 cows aborting calves in the past three weeks.

Richard Potts, NFU regional livestock adviser, said: “It has been estimated that 12.5 per cent of abortions in dairy cattle in England and Wales – about 6,000 a year – may be attributable to Neosporosis. We appreciate that generally people know very little about it and have little thought that their dog might carry the parasite, especially as there is no obvious impact on the dog itself.

“However, they can unwittingly spread it to cattle, where the results can be devastating, and that’s why it is important for people to clean up after their pet when out walking in the countryside – especially on pasture land.

“If infected dog waste is left in situ, not only can cattle contract the parasite from grazing, but it can also potentially get into grass silage made by the farmer to feed his animals in the winter.

“In that instance, the risk of spreading the disease to many more animals is significantly increased.”

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