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Dog poop in the New Forest causing pregnant cattle to lose their calves

Tom Gould and cattle

The famous New Forest in the UK has both dog walkers and grazing cattle on it at any one time. New Forest commoners, such as Tom Gould, are allowed to graze their cattle on this common land and national park. Tom Gould has 38 cattle grazing in the park but 18 were found to have lost their calves after they were infected by a bovine parasite called neospora which is found in dog excrement.

Tom Gould and cattle

Tom Gould and cattle. Photo: Daily Echo.

The parasite can survive in the soil for weeks. This means that dog walkers need to pick up their dog’s poop immediately to protect cattle grazing on this common land. If it is not picked up immediately cattle can ingest it as expected which makes them much more likely to abort. And it can affect future pregnancies for years to come.

For Tom Gould, the loss of his calves was “gut-wrenching”. He says that it is going to take years to rebuild his herd. Generously, he said that he is not blaming dog owners “because I don’t think there is much awareness of this disease, but I’m hoping that by spreading the message we can stop this from becoming an even bigger problem in the New Forest”. I think we can blame the dog walkers. They should know better. It is common knowledge in the UK that you pick up your dog’s poop. It doesn’t matter where you are. It’s just good manners and it stops the spread of disease. I would argue that it is common sense.

Other commoners have been affected. Dr. Alex Crook, of Cedar Farm Vets, in Ringwood, said that it was likely that the Hereford cross cattle became infected last spring when they ingested soil and grass contaminated by dog poop. Apparently, blood tests showed that the cattle had been exposed to neospora before they aborted.

Crook said: “The danger is they are infected for the rest of their lives and current studies show they are 6 to 7 times more likely to abort again. I wonder if the increase in dog numbers and people using the forest during lockdown has increased the risk of it spreading throughout the forest? Please clear up after your dog responsibly-don’t just throw it away. This disease can hang around in the environment for some time”.

And when a calf is born, they can carry the disease and therefore if it is going to be a breeding heifer there is a real problem.

This parasite has no effect on dogs it seems which makes it impossible for the dog’s owner to be aware of it.

There is a New Forest code regarding the picking up of faeces. It is promoted by the national park and backed by local groups. It urges pet owners to “pick up after your dog” and put the bagged poop waste in the bin.

The New Forest Dog Owners Group also encourages owners to act responsibly. They represent hundreds of local dog owners. They did state, however, that this parasite can also be spread by foxes.

The group said that if dog owners don’t pick up after the dog they are acting irresponsibly. If people don’t pick up then they should ensure that their dog defecates “away from areas used by humans and animals. Thousands of walks are undertaken every day across the New Forest, and sadly it is inevitable that occasionally there will be issues which we need to understand and tackle”, said Heather Gould from the New Forest Dog Owners Group.

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