A farmer has issued an emotional plea to dog walkers after an increase of Neosporosis found in cattle.
Neosporosis is caused by the coccidian parasite Neospora caninum, which has a wide host range, although the disease is principally seen in cattle. Dogs are thought to be the ‘definitive host’ for the disease.
Excreted N. caninum cysts from dogs are ingested by cattle which then become infected, the condition remaining for life.
Although N. caninum does not cause illness in the cow, the animal has the potential to transmit N. caninum across the placenta to her unborn calf.
This can either trigger abortion or the calf will also become infected if carried to term, thus continuing the cycle.
To date, cow-to-cow transmission has not been seen.
It is also problematic where grazing fields have public footpaths running through them which are regularly used by dog walkers.
Mrs Mitchell spoke to two dog walkers in her fields last week - who were both unaware of the potentially devastating problem.
This prompted her to issue a warning on Facebook - which has been shared over 9,000 times.
She said: "I had no idea it would spread as much as it has. In just 24 hours we had 5,000 shares and the post had been viewed by 420,000 people.
"I’ve had messages from walkers who thanked me for the advice - they had no idea."
As she waits for lab results of another suspected case, Mrs Mitchell has issued an emotional plea to dog walkers who are walking their pets in and around livestock fields.
"Please, please, please pick up your dog mess. Stop and think about the consequences for your local farmer. If you leave it - it could put them out of business.
"If we all encourage other dog walkers to do the same surely this will help reduce it."
It is possible for cows to be infected with neospora but to show no outward signs of the parasite and many will not abort, depending upon when they picked up the cysts.
This can have serious implications for the spread of disease in the herd as one of the most common methods of transmission is vertical, from dam to daughter.
Dr Richard Knight, Westmorland Veterinary Group director and RCVS Advanced Practitioner in Cattle Health and Production explains: "The older cows are, the less likely it is they will abort, so infection with neospora can go undetected. The problem here is if a cow first aborts when having her third calf and neospora is diagnosed as the cause as she may have already infected two heifers who may then go on to abort in the future.”
Dr Knight points to dry cows as the animals most at risk because they are more likely to abort or at least transmit the disease to their offspring if exposed to the parasite at this crucial time.
He says: “Bulling heifers will not abort, obviously, but may become infected and this will set them up for potential problems through their lives. This could be very expensive.
“It is therefore vital to keep dry cows and bulling heifers out of fields with footpaths or public access. If there are many footpaths across a farm, then ideally efforts could be made to educate dog walkers about the risk to animals if they do not clear up after them.
“It is equally important to ensure farm dogs are not a possible risk, so keep them away from feeding areas and do not allow them to wander into calving sheds."
Where neospora has not been identified in a herd, the following measures can be taken to reduce the risk of the disease occurring.