Vets issue urgent warning as thousands of dogs could be exposed to deadly parasite

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Thousands of dogs purchased during the lockdown could be at risk from the deadly parasitic lungworm, spread by slugs and snails, with many esteemed dog owners walking unprotected pets, vets are warning.

Due to wet weather across the UK in May, experts suggest slug and snail activity will explode, meaning dogs are at a greater risk of contracting lungworm in the garden, when of walks and even drinking from bowls or puddles.

An Elanco Animal Health survey indicates that 42% of dog owners don’t know what lung worm is or how it can infect dogs.

Data from animal welfare charities suggests there has been a recent surge in the number of people purchasing pets as they seek companionship during the lockdown.

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

The survey found that only 21% of dog owners surveyed had given their dog preventative treatment for lung worm in the past month.

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

They can also catch lungworms by rummaging in the undergrowth, eating grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking it up in their toys.

Dr Bryony Tolhurst, behavioral ecologist at the University of Brighton, said: “Slime from slugs and snails may contain the infectious lungworm parasite which can cause disease in dogs.

“With the unusually wet weather the UK has experienced 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.”

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

They were not aware of the need to guard against lungworm.

Bailey’s owner Rachel Morris from Surrey said: ‘We have been expecting a puppy for many years and the lockdown has meant it is actually possible. We had never heard of the lungworm.

“Bailey was always playing in the garden and we had never seen him eat slugs or snails, but he loved to chew on grass and unfortunately now we know that lungworm can even come from licking the trail. ‘a snail from grass, toys and / or bowls left outside.

Anne Nelson, the chief veterinarian who treated the puppy, said: “When Bailey entered practice on Friday, May 14, he was not exhibiting the usual clinical signs that we associate with lungworm, such as cough, weight loss or a change in behavior.

“Bailey was rushed back to us the next day when we diagnosed a lung worm and referred him to a specialist for life-saving care.

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

Vets warn that signs of lungworm aren’t always obvious, and puppies may be particularly susceptible to eating slugs and snails, due to their inquisitive nature.

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

Elanco’s new campaign – Open Your Eyes to the Deadly Lung Worm – is warning owners of the effect the parasite can have on their dogs.



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Luke Gamble, veterinarian and campaign supporter, said, “I care deeply about this campaign because so many dog ​​owners are unaware of the dangers of lungworm.

“The bottom line is to understand that over the counter medications cannot protect dogs against lungworm, so it is essential that owners speak to their vet to make sure their dog is protected at all times.”

The lungworm is spreading year by year in the UK, with 2,871 cases reported nationwide, according to Elanco’s lungworm map, which pet owners can use to check the number of cases of lung worm in their area.

:: The online survey was conducted by YouGov. The total sample size was 2,003 adults including 535 dog owners, and the fieldwork was undertaken between June 2 and June 3, 2021.

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