Spirocerca have a complex life cycle, involving an obligatory coprophagous beetles, an optional paratenic host (amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals such as hedgehogs, mice, and rabbits), and the definitive canid host.
A Gram-negative proteobacterial symbiont (Comamonas spp) which parasitizes Spirocerca lupi, is intimately involved in their lifecycle and has recently been targeted as a possible treatment method to target eradication of this parasite.
Dogs become infected by eating paratenic hosts. The nematode migrates from the intestines to the adventitia of the visceral arteries and aorta to finally reach the walls of the esophagus. Some go astray and encyst in ectopic sites including the thoracic organs, the gastrointestinal tract, the urinary system, and the subcutaneous tissues.
eproductive adults are found in cystic nodules that communicate with the lumen of the esophagus or stomach through fistula. Mature adults lay very small eggs are laid, and are passed in the dog's feces.
Species which are parasitic to dogs include:
- Spirocerca lupi (esophageal worm)
Spirocerca lupi primarily causes esophageal dysphagia in dogs but can induce esophageal diverticula and sarcoma formation in the distal luminal oesophagus in about 25% of cases. Necrotizing sialometaplasia has also been commonly reported, as well as aortic aneurysm or rupture and secondary pulmonary osteoarthropathy and ankylosing spondylitis of the caudal thoracic vertebrae.
Diagnosis is based on presenting clinical signs and finding Spirocera eggs in feces. However, dogs with neoplastic nodules shed significantly fewer eggs than dogs with non-neoplastic nodules and may be difficult to detect.
Supportive evidence for a diagnosis is based on thoracic barium radiographs and pneumoesophagography. Definitive diagnosis requires serological testing and identification of parasite in biopsied material.
- Protea Animal Clinic
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