Devon cows looking out at us

If you are picturing a slavering Baskervilles beast bearing down at full pelt on a panicked and scattering herd……..well it’s not quite like that.

It’s not their teeth or jaws or paws; it’s their poo.

Good dog owners pick up their dog’s poo as a public courtesy – plus it is actually the law too of course. That’s so we don’t step in it, sit on it, get it in the wheels of prams and bikes, or worse yet, in our eyes. Thank you, it’s appreciated!

But what about in farmer’s fields, that’s okay isn’t it?
The rain washes it away, you can just flick it into the hedge can’t you?

Neospora is the leading cause of abortion in cows in the UK.

It is a protozoan parasite passed between dogs and cattle.

Other animals can be infected too and so help to spread it around, but Dogs are the definitive host – which means that the parasite reaches adult maturity in them. Dogs get it if they eat infected meat or placentas around the farm. Eggs are then shed in their poo. So if a dog runs off the lead in a field or near a farm that raises the chance that it may get Neospora by eating something without the owner noticing.

The eggs stay active for up to 6 months – long after the poo has washed away.
If cows eat the eggs then the infection can cause abortions, reduced milk yields and impaired growth rates.
Mothers then pass on the infection to their calves – the herd is now infected.
There’s no effective treatment.

One estimate of the cost to the average herd is £3000/year.

Neospora warning sign


I spoke with Selworthy Vets – the ones on the way to Kingsbridge. They see abortions due to Neospora in herds at least 2-3 times a year. They say there are also miscarriages in sheep (Neospora can effect them too), but think that many of these remain unreported and undiagnosed.

I thought I’d also ask some of our local farmers about it:

Jim Wallis – Dairy:

“Yeah we have regular cases of it!! Half a dozen a year roughly – the cow aborts the calf before full term, and then 9 times out of ten is left infertile after, or will never carry a full term calf again!! Most frustrating disease I deal with as it’s just down to lack of respect from people not picking up their dog’s poo.”


Sue Fildes – Beef:

“Yes A friend of mine lost half her herd to it, she had to cull all the relatives as it passes down the female line. When 20 of her cows tested positive she lost 45 females – all the female offspring of the positive cows had to be sent as beef rather than retained for breeding.”


Sheep on Devon hillside

It’s not just Neospora – there’s also Tapeworm.


Again the eggs are shed in the infected dog’s poo – which can then be eaten by sheep.

Tapeworms aren’t good for the sheep of course and can make them ill or kill them, but perhaps most significantly tapeworm cysts form in the sheep’s tissues. If there are too many then the sheep is rejected at the slaughterhouse. Which means that a year’s work has been wasted.


John Tucker – sheep:

“It’s happened three or four times to us, last time a couple of sheep died……that’s 12 month’s work lost. When dogs poo on grass, if they haven’t treated for tapeworm then they can pass them to the sheep which can kill them, or if they get to the slaughterhouse they are condemned.”


I didn’t know about any of this before I started writing this, did you?

So how can we help?

If you are a dog owner then:

• Keep your dog on a lead in fields and on farms.
• Clean up after your dog on walks, wherever you are.
• Don’t let them eat things they find in fields.
• Make sure they are treated for worms.

You can also tell dog owner friends about this. They are good people and they might not even know about this, I didn’t.

Just like you and me they would never deliberately harm cows, sheep, or a farmer’s livelihood.


Dog poo: Bag it, bin it