Dog WARNING: Deadly lungworm spreading through UK

SLIPPERY, slimy snails have always been welcome visitors to our garden even when the glorious hostas are at their luscious best.

Coco the Staffie

Coco the Staffie was lucky to survive after being stricken with lungworm (Image: Vets4Pets)

The vibrant, lettuce-like leaves are perfect mollusc food yet, then again, snails and slugs make a wonderful supplement to a song thrush diet. Who can begrudge one of the finest songbirds as well as endangered hedgehogs nourishing escargot feasts at the expense of a few raggedy-edged herbaceous plants? Hence, this means there are no slug pellets in our garden shed, while ensuring marauding snails are not left in squashed heaps of broken shells and gooey gunge has become an important feature of the morning walk to school.

Explaining how gastropods are a vital part of the suburban food chain sees my grandchildren now carefully guiding the creatures out of harm’s way whenever they are found leaving glistening snail-trails on the pavement.

As always, life in the suburban jungle is not simple. Besides being anathema to hosta aficionados and the bane of allotment-keepers, slugs and snails play a sinister role in the life-cycle of a potentially deadly creature threatening dogs. Vets are warning how lungworm is spreading throughout the UK following new research which shows how the parasite has expanded from its southern domain into northern England and Scotland with 2,762 confirmed cases.Experts from Vets4Pets and pharmaceutical giants Bayer are raising awareness and an interactive map can be checked online for dog owners to see if the disease has been recorded within their postcode (see below).

Lungworm has a complex lifecycle, using dogs and foxes as the primary host, while slugs, snails and even frogs play an intermediate role. The parasite’s larvae are spread through canine faeces which, in turn, provide food for the molluscs. When a dog accidentally eats an infected slug or snail, or comes into contact with their slime, the parasite can take a deadly grip on its host.

Garden snail on bracken

Snails play a vital role in the lifecycle of lungworms (Image: GETTY)Coco the 18 month old Staffie was lucky to survive after he went from a fun-loving, energetic young dog to becoming lethargic and coughing up blood within a matter of days.Worried owner Stephen Ford, from Kingswood, near Bristol, rushed the pet to his nearby Vets4Pets branch where x-rays and blood tests confirmed he had contracted lungworm.“Coco is usually such a livewire, so it was a shock to see him go from being a healthy and happy dog, to one that was quiet and struggling to breathe – it all happened so quickly,” says Stephen.Spot-on medication treatment soon produced positive improvements in Coco’s health although it was a few months before he was back to his active self.

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Coco the Staffie

It took several months for Coco to get back to full active health (Image: Vets4Pets)“Coco’s case just goes to show how easy it can be for dogs to contract the lungworm parasite and how important preventative treatments are,” Stephen continues. “Coco is now on a combined monthly treatment to protect him from lungworm and other similar parasites and I hope he never has to go through anything like this again.”With the average British garden home to more than 20,000 slugs and snails, the risk of a dog encountering a lungworm host is high, says Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets. Lungworm larvae can also survive for at least 15 days in infected slime, meaning drinking bowls or toys and sticks left out overnight can increase the risk to pets.“Common signs of the disease include coughing and breathing problems, but also weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, tiredness, blood clotting or excessive bleeding from small wounds and changes in behaviour,” explains Dr Stacey.Experts say the disease is completely preventable with worming tablets and spot-on treatments. As not all worming treatments are effective, it is best to visit your vet for advice.Dog owners can check if there are cases of lungworm in their area atwww.lungworm.co.uk/lungworm-map.