The History of the Hydatid Tapeworm in Tasmania

Written by Dr Megan Rowles

Have you ever wondered why you have to worm your dog before he or she is allowed into Tasmania? Or did you wonder why it is illegal to feed offal (internal organs) to your dog? 

The answer lies with a nasty parasite and a success story in preventing it…

Long ago in the 1960s in the state of Tasmania, hydatid tapeworms very commonly caused disease in livestock and dogs. 

Tapeworm cysts were found in the internal organs of the sheep and cattle and would infect the farm, hunting or pet dogs when these organs were offered as food. 

The cysts developed and hatched in the gut of the dog and the tapeworms laid more eggs, which were eaten by livestock when they grazed paddocks that the dogs had been to the toilet on.

The eggs also infected the men, women and children who handled the dogs and many people became sick with hydatid disease as the eggs hatched into cysts that grew inside their bodies ... some people died.

The government decided it was time to act and launched a tapeworm eradication program. 

This program was a big success and by the early 1970s hydatid disease in humans was no longer a problem in Tasmania. It is still an issue in the mainland states to this day.

To keep the people of Tasmania safe from the hydatid tapeworm the government passed two new laws. 

The first law was that no dog in Tasmania was ever to be fed internal organs (or offal) from cattle, sheep, goats or pigs. Internal organs include kidney, liver, heart and lung. 

Pet food containing organs had to be processed so it was ‘commercially sterile’ (dry biscuits or canned food) and this stopped the infection in the dogs. 

Secondly, any dog visiting the mainland had to be treated with a worming tablet containing praziquantel, the drug that kills tapeworms, so if the dog became infected it would not bring the parasite home.

All Tasmanian dog owners must understand and follow these laws, so we can all live happily ever after.