Protect your pups: Stats show half of dog-owners are unaware of deadly disease

Lungworm can be fatal for dogs.
Lungworm can be fatal for dogs.

Millions of dogs could be at risk of contracting a deadly disease according to new research, which shows that almost half of UK dog-owners are completely unaware of what the parasite lungworm is and how to prevent it.

New stats from Vets4Pets show that while 52% of dog-owners are aware of lungworm, 39% admit they're not sure exactly what it is. A further 10% claim they were completely unaware of the disease altogether despite one in five of those polled saying their dog has had lungworm in the past.

A parasite that can be deadly to dogs if ingested, lungworm uses multiple host animals during its life-cycle. Dogs and foxes are the primary hosts, while slugs, snails, and even frogs can be intermediate hosts, with Vets4Pets now working with Bayer to help inform owners of the dangers of this deadly parasite.

“Awareness, and particularly knowledge, of lungworm is still pretty low amongst UK dog owners," said Dr Huw Stacey, vet and director of clinical services at Vets4Pets. "It appears that many people still don’t fully understand how their dogs can contract it, what threats it poses and how important, and easy, prevention is.

“Most worryingly, a third of those surveyed admitted they don’t currently give their dog any preventative treatment to protect their dog against lungworm," Dr Stacey added. "And when asked why they don’t, we found that the most common reason was apathy, or a lack of awareness, as 35% said they didn’t even know that lungworm was preventable."

Vets can offer lungworm preventative treatment, which is the best way to ensure your pet is protected, and while most cases of the disease were registered in southern England, more and more cases have been logged in the North West over recent times.

“Lungworm is spread when the parasite’s larvae are produced inside a dog or fox and passed through their faeces, which are eaten by slugs, snails, or frogs who then become infected,” explained Dr Stacey. “Unlike other diseases, lungworm can’t be passed from dog to dog, but instead if a dog accidentally eats an infected slug or snail, or comes into contact with their slime, they can contract the disease.

“And the risk of dogs coming into contact with these infected molluscs is high, as it is believed that the average British garden contains over 20,000 slugs and snails, and the larvae which are released in the slime can survive for at least 15 days," the doctor added. “That’s why, as well as using preventative treatment, it is crucial owners don’t leave their dog’s toys or water bowls outside overnight, or let them pick up sticks in the park, as these could all have been exposed to slug or snail slime."

Common signs of lungworm include coughing and breathing problems, but also weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, tiredness, blood clotting or excessive bleeding from small wounds, and changes in behaviour. Many symptoms can be hard to distinguish, making is all the more important for dog-owners to be aware of the risks and take preventative measures.

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