Neosporosis is a neuromuscular disease that can cause a variety of scary symptoms in a pet dog. Puppies are particularly susceptible to the disease. While it is not the most common disease, dog owners should be aware of its cause, potential symptoms they may see in their pet, and what type of treatment plan to expect to prevent a fatal outcome.
What Is Neosporosis in Dogs?
Neosporosis is a disease that occurs as a result of a specific parasite that makes its home in the intestinal tract of dogs. It is a disease that causes neurological, as well as other issues, but may also occur without any symptoms at all in its early stages. It is more commonly seen in cattle and other farm animals than it is dogs.
The signs of neosporosis may depend on how severe of an infection a dog has.
Initially, neosporosis may not cause any symptoms in a dog but if an infection is left untreated it may have difficulty walking and experience ataxia. This is due to the hindlimb paralysis that develops as the disease progresses.
Neurological effects are caused by the disease which subsequently causes this paralysis along with a decrease in muscle mass. The skin may also become inflamed and red in some areas and sores may even develop due to the tissue destruction the disease causes.
Finally, if coughing is seen, then the lungs or heart may be affected by the disease since pneumonia and heart disease can also result with untreated or delayed treatment of neosporosis. Neosporosis is likely to cause death if left untreated and the more symptoms a dog is showing the worse the prognosis is.
Causes of Neosporosis in Dogs
Neosporosis is caused by the intestinal parasite Neospora caninum. This parasite most often lives in the intestinal tract of cattle and can be passed onto dogs after they ingest raw meat as well barnyard chickens or some wild animals. The parasite uses the dog as its definitive or intermediate host and cattle as another intermediate host. It can be passed onto puppies if the pregnant dog is infected resulting in infected puppies at birth. If this occurs, the infection is referred to as congenital neosporosis. If a puppy is not born with neosporosis, then they most likely contracted the disease from consuming infected animal parts instead.
Diagnosing Neosporosis in Dogs
Diagnosis is typically made by a veterinarian after performing a full physical examination, obtaining a full history of the dog, and recognizing the symptoms of the disease. A special titer test using blood or spinal fluid will also be run to look for evidence of exposure to the parasite. Despite the fact that this parasite lives in the intestinal tract, there is rarely any evidence of N. caninum in the feces of a dog during a routine fecal examination.
Treatment of Neosporosis in Dogs
Neosporosis in dogs is currently treated with a long course of antibiotics. Symptomatic treatment of skin sores, pneumonia, and other signs of neosporosis, including muscle wasting and paralysis, will also need to be addressed if they are present. Treatment may go on for a month or even more in dogs with symptoms.
For young puppies being treated for neosporosis, if one puppy is diagnosed with neosporosis, it is recommended by the Companion Animal Parasite Council to treat the entire litter, even if they aren't showing any signs of the disease.
How to Prevent Neosporosis in Dogs
The risk of a dog being infected with N. caninum is low but steps to prevent neosporosis from occurring can still be taken, especially if your dog is regularly exposed to cattle and other farm animals. It is important to remember that there is no vaccine for neosporosis in cattle or dogs.
Dogs should never be allowed to eat any animal remains or afterbirth of a cow as this parasite is most often found in these tissues. As another precaution, dogs that have neosporosis should never be bred so as to prevent passing this infection onto the litter of puppies.
Is Neosporosis Contagious to Humans?
Thankfully, neosporosis is not considered a zoonotic disease so it is not thought to spread to humans. Some humans have had positive titers for N. caninum without being sick, though, so immunocompromised people should be careful if they come in contact with a dog or other animal that is infected in case it could cause a problem for them.
Silva, Rodrigo C, and Gustavo P Machado. Canine neosporosis: perspectives on pathogenesis and management. Veterinary medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 7 59-70. 26 Apr. 2016, doi:10.2147/VMRR.S76969
Neosporosis in Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Neosporosis. Companion Animal Parasite Council.
Neosporosis in Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual.