Vets are warning dog owners to be on their guard over an increased threat of lungworm.
As summer turns to autumn, cooler nights and a decrease in daylight means dogs are likely to come into frequent contact with snails and slugs, which are the most common hosts of the lungworm parasite.
But experts say even keeping pets from accidentally or deliberately eating the molluscs might not help in the fight against the spread of the disease.
Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “The risk of lungworm is gradually increasing in the UK, with examples of the disease now occurring in all counties. It was first documented in Cornwall and South Wales in 1979, and has spread rapidly, with cases now confirmed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England.
“Lungworm is a parasite and has a life-cycle which starts and ends with snails and slugs. The lungworm larvae are found in dogs’ faeces, and are eaten by molluscs, which then infect other dogs that either eat these slugs and snails or come into contact with their slime.
He added: “Symptoms of lungworm can include changes to breathing, such as coughing or running out of breath easily, weight loss and a reduced appetite. In advanced cases it can cause life threatening bleeding disorders.
“None of these signs are a guarantee of the presence of lungworm, so further tests would need to be carried out by a vet to diagnose the infection.”
Lungworm isn’t a condition that affects only dogs. Foxes can increase the transmission of parasites in a local area, however the long distance movement of the infection is thought to be almost entirely down to pet dogs.
“Lungworm is a condition that can be treated successfully by vets, if diagnosed in time, “ added Dr Stacey.
“Preventative products are available and with regular use, prevention is easily achieved. You should always speak to your vet as not all worming products are effective against this parasite.
“There are a number of other steps that can help prevent your pet from getting lungworm.
“These include stopping your dog putting snails or slugs in their mouth, bringing your dog’s toys in from the garden at night and not throwing your dog sticks; because as well as the risk of causing injury a stick can harbour lungworm larvae if a snail or slug has been on it.”