EXPERTS WARN OF THE CONTINUED SPREAD OF FATAL DOG PARASITE ACROSS THE UK
Last year’s damp summer and mild winter conditions have been ideal for slugs and snails, to the dismay of any gardener. However, these unassuming creatures present an even greater threat to dogs through the potentially fatal lungworm parasite, as experts warn of a continued spread of the parasitei.
Furthermore, a study by the Royal Veterinary College[ii]i has shown the lungworm parasite is spreading beyond the traditional geographic distribution with 20 per cent of veterinary practices across the country reporting at least one case of the parasite.
Lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is a parasite that dogs become infected with after eating common garden slugs and snails carrying the parasite larvae. Once inside the dog’s system, the parasite travels through the body eventually ending up in the heart. If the infection is left untreated, the dog’s health can rapidly deteriorate, often resulting in death.
To help raise awareness of the parasite, the national ‘Be Lungworm Aware’ campaign will offer support and education to owners and vets throughout March, which has been designated ‘Lungworm Awareness Month’.
The campaign is urging owners to be extra vigilant of the signs of lungworm from March onwards in the UK. To help further spread the word about the campaign, people will be encouraged to end their tweets on Twitter with the hash tag ‘belungwormaware’, throughout March, in a display of support.
A recent survey of more than 2,000 UK dog owners, launching this year’s ‘Be Lungworm Aware’ campaign, has discovered that 84 per cent admit to not being able to identify the symptoms of the parasite in their dog[iii]i, despite experts from the Royal Veterinary College warning of its spread across the country.
One third (33 per cent) of dog owners admitted they do not know how their dog can become infected with lungworm and half have said they don’t believe their dog is at risk. However, when educated about the causes of lungworm in dogs, more than 37 per cent of dog owners thought their pet could be at risk.
Furthermore, 65 per cent of owners have noticed an increase in the prevalence of slugs and snails over the past year, with 85 per cent reporting large numbers of the slimy creatures in their back garden.
Biodiversity & Conservation Officer for The Natural History Museum, Professor Fred Naggs, said: “An increase in the number of slug and snail populations this year would suggest there will consequently be a continued spread of the parasite. However, this depends on a number of factors: (i) the number of slugs and snails around last year, of which there were many (ii) the level of precipitation throughout the year, as slugs and snails will breed continuously when temperatures are mild to warm and there is adequate relative humidity. According to many reports in the press, last year was one of the wettest on record (iii) the survival of slugs and snails over the winter. As this winter has not been particularly harsh, reasonable numbers of slugs and snails should have survived.
Mark Bossley, chief vet at the UK’s leading animal charity, Blue Cross, said: “We regularly advise dog owners of the dangers of lungworm because, sadly, we see so many cases every year. It is a hidden killer so we are very supportive of the ‘Be Lungworm Aware’ campaign in the hope that more dogs will be saved from this horrible disease. We urge dog owners to talk to their vet about preventative treatments and be vigilant with their dogs when in the garden or on walks.”
Routine use of a specific treatment, available from veterinary surgeons, prevents dogs from developing a lungworm infection. Some pet owners believe that lungworm can be prevented using conventional worming tablets, which is unfortunately not the case.
For further information, or to discuss your dog’s parasite protection plan, please contact your local veterinary practice.
To help educate dog owners about the infection and encourage vigilance of the tell-tale signs, the ‘Be Lungworm Aware’ campaign has been set up by Bayer Animal Health, experts in animal parasitology. For details on lungworm, visit www.lungworm.co.uk
[ii] As per Professor Fred Naggs’ quote in body of release
ii Royal Veterinary College survey 2012, 1,419 veterinary practices
[iii] Opinion Matters, December 2012, 2,000 dog owners