This year will only mark Tess Daly's second time at Crufts, but she has one clear agenda. After losing her family's Golden Retriever Sam at just five years old to what was then a mysterious illness, Tess now believes it was the deadly parasite lungworm that claimed his life. In a bid to keep anyone going through what she did, Tess is telling all dog owners to Be Lungworm Aware, in association with Bayer.
Tess told me the story of when it all started to go wrong for young Sam.
“Nobody could tell us what it was. They couldn’t identify what was causing Sam’s symptoms, but he was very tired, he was off his food and coughing a lot. We live in the Buckinghamshire countryside, and he would run the length of our garden and go into the farmer’s field behind our house, so at the time we thought he had perhaps swallowed some of the poison the farmer put down or a pesticide for the crops. But we weren’t getting any answers anywhere," says Tess.
“Eventually we sent him to a specialist vet centre because our local vet couldn’t help us. They did all sorts of blood tests on him, x-rays, everything, the works. In an attempt to save his life we took every suggestion, we had no choice.
“They did all sorts of invasive tests; it was awful. Sam had surgery, followed by blood transfusions, followed by more surgery, and by the time he left them three weeks later he was so weak and so thin from not eating. We had to liquefy all his food and feed him through a syringe, and by this point he was vomiting and had diarrhoea and in the end we had no choice but to put him down because he just couldn’t carry on. His health deteriorated really quickly.
“Back then I didn’t even realise lungworm existed as a parasite. It was only subsequently that I became aware of it and the symptoms and I thought, ‘Hang on, this sounds horribly familiar.’
“Of course, like any dog Sam played out in the garden. He had an outdoor water bowl, he would play with his toys outside, and lungworm is so easily contracted. Slugs and small snails can exist on toys and the tiny ones can’t even be seen inside a dog bowl. He could have had some water and inadvertently swallowed a tiny slug, which might have carried the parasite."
So what is lungworm? Well, infection starts with lungworm larvae, which are carried by snails and slugs. If a dog eats an affected snail or slug, the lungworm larvae make their way to the lungs and infect the animal. What often makes lungworm deadly is the symptoms it causes in dogs, which are easily confused or passed off as something else. These include, but are not limited to, behavioural changes, coughing, difficulty breathing and general tiredness.
Today, a simple blood test or stool sample can confirm a diagnosis of lungworm, and it can be treated by your vet - but the sooner it is caught, the better.
If you are concerned, visit www.lungworm.co.uk or speak to your vet.
Featured photograph: Tess Daly at this year's Crufts with Golden Retriever Gus. Credit: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire