Common helminth infections of donkeys and their control in temperate regions

Roundworms and flatworms that affect donkeys can cause disease. All common helminth parasites that affect horses also infect donkeys, so animals that co-graze can act as a source of infection for either species. Of the gastrointestinal nematodes, those belonging to the cyathostomin (small strongyle) group are the most problematic in UK donkeys. Most grazing animals are exposed to these parasites and some animals will be infected all of their lives. Control is threatened by anthelmintic resistance: resistance to all 3 available anthelmintic classes has now been recorded in UK donkeys. The lungworm, Dictyocaulus arnfieldi, is also problematical, particularly when donkeys co-graze with horses. Mature horses are not permissive hosts to the full life cycle of this parasite, but develop clinical signs on infection. In contrast, donkeys are permissive hosts without displaying overt clinical signs and act as a source of infection to co-grazing horses. Donkeys are also susceptible to the fluke, Fasciola hepatica. This flatworm can be transmitted, via snails and the environment, from ruminants. As with cyathostomins, anthelmintic resistance is increasing in fluke populations in the UK. A number of the anthelmintic products available for horses do not have a licence for use in donkeys, and this complicates the design of parasite control programmes. As no new equine anthelmintic classes appear to be near market, it is important that the efficacy of currently effective drugs is maintained. It is important that strategies are used that attempt to preserve anthelmintic efficacy. These strategies should be based on the concept that the proportion of worms in a population not exposed to anthelmintic at each treatment act as a source of ‘refugia’. The latter is an important factor in the rate at which resistance develops. Thus, it is imperative that parasite control programmes take into account the need to balance therapy to control helminth-associated disease with the requirement to preserve anthelmintic effectiveness.

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