Parasite Discovered in Colorado River Could Be Deadly to Dogs

( – Experts are warning the public of the potential dangers posed to their dogs by a deadly parasite that was discovered recently in the Colorado River.

The parasite was discovered in Southern California, and is called heterobilharzia americana – or a “liver fluke” in layman’s terms. The parasite is a flatworm that attaches itself to a dog’s liver, causing a condition that is called canine schistosomiasis, which affects the dog’s liver and intestines. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea in dogs, and most often eventually cause the animal’s death. Treatment for the condition in dogs exist, but they are not 100% effective.

According to a report from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), the parasite is typically found in Texas and other Gulf states, but has never been seen on the Western side of the U.S. until today.

“If you’re swimming in the Colorado River with them, your pets are in peril,” warned Adler Dillman, a nematology professor at UCR.

Snails are the primary carriers of the parasite, which researchers found along the banks of the Colorado River in Blythe, California. Blythe is a small border town just east of Joshua Tree National Park, and was the location where scientists first learned of an outbreak of canine schistosomiasis, which the animals contracted from swimming in the river or drinking from it.

According to Professor Dillman, they found two species of snails that carried the parasite, which he said were “actively shedding” the worm. He also said that researchers were surprised not only by the presence of liver flukes, but also of the snails themselves.

Dillman explained how the parasite wreaks havoc in the bodies of its victims, saying that the parasite’s eggs are the main cause of death in the animals. Once an adult parasite lays its eggs in the host, they then spread to the dogs’ lungs, liver, spleen, and heart. The animal’s immune system attempts to fight off the invaders, but instead form into hard clusters of cells called granulomas, which eventually cause the dog’s organs to fail.

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