Walking in circles, muscle weakness, confusion, blindness and paralysis are all signs of dogs with Neosporosis. It is a progressive disease that affects a dog’s central nervous system. Often, it gets overlooked because it mimics other health problems. Here is information about the condition and how to protect your dog from paralyzing Neosporosis.
What is Neosporosis?
I was first introduced to Neosporosis by pet parents who wrote to me with questions about how to care for their paralyzed dog. It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways our pets can become disabled. Their questions sent me on a quest to learn about the condition. I wanted to be able to properly answer their concerns.
I now feel informed enough to share what I learned. There is, however, one caveat you should be prepared to read at the end of the story. Part of the prevention process is controversial.
Neosporosis is caused by a parasite known as Neospora caninum. The organism invades the body of an animal and plants tiny cysts. Eventually these cysts rupture. This gives the parasite the opportunity to grow and multiply inside your dog’s body.
This also sets the stage for an infection to brew inside an animal’s tissues. The infection attacks a dog’s neurological system and muscular system. It does it by killing off tissue cells. The word neosporosis is actually a medical term that means, “death of cells.”
How a dog gets the Neospora caninum parasite.
Neospora caninum can live in a variety of animals. It is seen in farm animals like: cattle, sheep, goats, horses and chickens. And wild animal such as: coyotes, deer, rodents, rabbits, wolves and foxes.
Your dog can become infected by:
- Eating a diseased animal.
- Eating the feces of an infected animal.
- Eating the after-birth fluids of diseased livestock.
- Walking on the soil where an infected animal has been.
In addition, puppies can get Neosporsis from the womb of an infected mother dog. The placenta of the mother can pass along the parasite to an unborn puppy.
Neospora caninum is the number one cause of spontaneous abortion in dogs. It can be the only symptom that points to a mother dog who is a carrier of the parasite.
Symptoms of paralyzing Neosporosis
Neosporosis is most commonly seen in puppies, hunting dogs and dogs who live near livestock. Some infected dogs become carriers of the disease and never show any signs of illness. That makes it easy for them to pass along the parasite to their offspring. It also makes it easy for carriers to contaminate shared feeding bowls.
Symptoms for puppies include:
- Stiffness in the hind legs
- Muscle atrophy
- Hind end paralysis
- Rigid limbs
- Liver damage
- Skin ulcer
Symptoms for adult dogs are:
- Dermatitis as the cells of the skin die off
- Skin ulcers
- Muscle weakness in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Liver damage
- Walking in circles
- Paralysis in the hind end and the lungs
How dogs with Neosporosis are diagnosed and treated
Your veterinarian will begin with a CBC (complete blood count) and urinalysis. This is done to rule out diseases that resemble Neosporosis like: rabies, distemper, fungal infections, and pesticide poisoning.
A spinal tap of the cerebrospinal fluid from the brain and spinal cord might also be ordered. Sometimes there is a tissue biopsy, as well.
Dogs suspected of having Neosporosis need immediate medical care. There are only a few medications that can slow the progression of the disease. Dogs need to start on anti-malaria medications and long-term antibiotics as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, dogs with advanced stages of Neosporosis that include signs of muscle contraction or paralysis have a poor prognosis.
How to prevent Neosporosis
The best way to prevent Neosporosis is to have your dog avoid infected animals and where they feed. That means keeping your dog away from areas where they might be able to eat the tissues, fluids or feces of a contaminated farm or wild animal.
Here is the controversial part I warned you about.
In addition to keeping your dog away from areas where they can pick-up the Neospora caninum parasite, experts recommend that pet parents avoid serving their pets a raw food diet. (Don’t shoot the messenger.)
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “Dogs are presumed to become infected by consuming raw meat diets.”
Instead, researchers suggest that bones and raw meat is thoroughly cooked before feeding it to your pets. The farming industry also recommends this method for dogs who live on farms. They believe it is one less way cattle and other livestock can become infected.
That said, if you are committed to the raw diet way of life for your dog, be sure to only use human-grade raw meat and bones. That way you can feel assured the raw food you serve has been FDA approved and is free of parasites.