Vets issue urgent warning to dog owners over deadly parasite

Vets have warned dog owners of a deadly parasite lungworm carried by thousands of dogs bought during lockdown.

The parasite is spread by slugs and snails and it is thought that thousands of dog owners could be walking unprotected pets.

Experts are suggesting that slug and snail activity could explode in the UK after the damp weather in May.

That means dogs are at greater risk of contracting lungworm in the garden, on walks and even by drinking from water bowls or puddles.

42% of dog owners not aware of lungworm

A survey from Elanco Animal Health indicates that 42% of dog owners are not aware of what lungworm is or how it can infect dogs.

Data from animal welfare charities suggests there was a recent surge in people buying pets as they looked for company during lockdown.

But vets are more concerned at the number of dogs that are not adequately protected.

The poll revealed that only 21% of dog owners surveyed had given their dog a lungworm preventative treatment in the past month.

How dogs can be infected with the parasite

Dogs can be infected with the potentially fatal parasite when they eat common slugs and snails in their garden or on walks.

They can also pick up lungworm while rummaging through undergrowth, eating grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking it up from their toys.

Dr Bryony Tolhurst, a behavioural ecologist at the University of Brighton, said: “The slime of slugs and snails can contain the infective lungworm parasite that can cause disease in dogs.

“With the unusually damp weather the UK has been experiencing this year, slugs and snails are more active, and lungworm larvae can survive for up to two weeks in their slime, potentially exposing dogs to the parasite.”

‘We had never heard of lungworm’

Bailey, a five-month-old retriever puppy, was diagnosed with lungworm in May after only being with his new family for a few months.

They were unaware of the need to prevent against lungworm.

Bailey’s owner Rachel Morris, from Surrey, said: “We had waited for a puppy for many years and lockdown has meant this was actually possible. We had never heard of lungworm.

“Bailey was always playing out in the garden, and we had never seen him eat any slugs or snails, but he did like to chew grass and unfortunately we now know that lungworm can even come from licking a snail’s trail from grass, toys and or bowls left outside.”

Anne Nelson, the senior veterinary surgeon who treated the puppy, said: “When Bailey came into the practice on Friday May 14, he was not presenting with the usual clinical signs we associate with lungworm, such as coughing, weight loss or a change in behaviour.

“Bailey was rushed back to us the following day, when we diagnosed lungworm and referred him to a specialist for vital care.

“Despite our best efforts, Bailey sadly passed away the next day as the lungworm infection had become too significant for his body to recover from.”

The signs of lungworm

Vets are warning that the signs of lungworm are not always obvious, and puppies can be especially likely to eat slugs and snails, due to their inquisitive nature.

The infection is much easier to prevent than it is to cure, experts say.

– The online survey was conducted by YouGov. The total sample size was 2,003 adults of which 535 were dog owners, and fieldwork was undertaken between June 2 and June 3 2021.

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