Due to the “unusually” damp weather that occurred in the UK in May, experts are saying that the number of slugs and snails is likely to surge, which can put dogs at a higher risk of contracting lungworm when out and about on walks, especially if they start drinking from puddles.
According to Blue Cross, Lungworm is contracted after a dog eats the larvae found in infected snails or slugs.
“The lungworm larvae then grow inside the dog and adult lungworms move through their body to live in their heart and blood vessels,” the website explains.
“This can cause heart problems, breathing problems and pneumonia but in mild cases infection can remain unnoticed by owners. After about 28 days the worms start to produce their own larvae which can lead to serious problems. “
Lungworm has been common in southern areas of England and South Wales for some time, but the number of cases diagnosed in northern England and Scotland have recently risen.
Symptoms include coughing, breathing problems, reluctance to exercise, and abnormal blood clotting.
It can cause haemorrhages in the lungs, liver, intestine, eyes and spinal cord and, if left untreated, it can be fatal.
A survey conducted by animal protection agency Elanco Animal Health found that 42 per cent of dog owners do not know what lungworm is or how dangerous it can be for dogs.
Dr Bryony Tolhurst, a behavioural ecologist at the University of Brighton, commented: “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.”
A five-month-old retriever puppy named Bailey was diagnosed with lungworm in May after having been purchased during lockdown. He passed away shortly after.
Bailey’s owner Rachel Morris, from Surrey, was not aware of the risk of lungworm.
She 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 or bowls left outside.”
Senior vet surgeon Anne Nelson, who treated the puppy, said: “When Bailey came into the practice on Friday 14 May, 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.”
Find out more about lungworm at Blue Cross here.