Vets are issuing a warning to dog owners as a potentially fatal dog disease has now spread throughout the UK.
Lungworm was originally believed to be limited to southern regions, but research has revealed the parasite’s presence in northern areas of England, and even Scotland, which were not previously considered at risk.
There have been 2,762 recorded confirmed cases of lungworm in the UK, however many are still unreported, with south east England and Wales considered hotspot regions for cases.
Now experts from veterinary group Vets4Pets and pharmaceutical company Bayer are working to raise awareness of the disease amongst dog owners and vets, focusing on areas which were previously thought to be safe.
Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “The continued spread of the lungworm parasite throughout the UK over the past 10 years or so means the UK dog population is increasingly at risk.
“Cases of lungworm being seen in Scotland shows that the parasite can easily establish itself in a new area that wasn’t considered a traditional place for cases. Previous studies have shown that practices in south Wales and south-eastern England were between 15 and 16 times more likely to see a case than anywhere else in the UK, but this is slowly changing.”
Foxes are a host of the disease, alongside dogs, and a recent survey revealed that lungworm prevalence in foxes in Greater London has reached nearly 75%. Lungworm in foxes in northern England has also gone from 0% to 7.4% in the last 10 years, whilst the UK average is now 18.3%.
Dr Stacey added: “Foxes are a key indicator, as lungworm cases are likely to be mirrored in dogs, so we can make an informed assessment of risk to dogs in areas of high numbers of infected foxes. The urbanisation of foxes in more and more areas across the UK means that even walking a dog only in a city or town cannot protect them from coming into contact with the parasite, and it is worrying to see the prevalence is as high as 75% in areas like London.”
Lungworm is a parasite that uses multiple species to help complete its lifecycle. Dogs and foxes are the primary host, whilst slugs, snails and even frogs are the intermediate hosts.
Lungworm larvae are produced inside the dog or fox and pass through their faeces, which are eaten by slugs and snails, where the parasite can then develop inside these hosts. If a dog accidentally eats an infected slug or snail, or comes into contact with their slime, they can become infected.
A study by the University of Glasgow confirmed lungworm is now endemic in Scotland, after the parasite was present in 6.7% of slugs and snails collected in parks around Glasgow and Ayrshire. Most recently, in January this year, 9.1% of slugs sampled from six sites in Guildford also tested positive for lungworm.
Symptoms include coughing, breathing problems, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, tiredness, blood clotting or excessive bleeding from small wounds and changes in behaviour. However some dogs do not show clear signs of the disease.
Donna Tomlinson, senior brand manager at Bayer, said: “Educating pet owners is essential, but raising awareness amongst vets is equally as important, particularly in areas like Scotland and the north of England.
“We are working alongside vets to report cases of lungworm that they see and treat so we can keep our map up-to-date, so that it is the best resource for dog owners to be aware of where and when cases are highest.”
Dog owners can check if there are cases of lungworm in their local area at www.lungworm.co.uk/lungworm-map.