Slug and snails may look harmless, but that's not always the case. Some of them may be carrying a parasite that can be fatal to your dog: the lungworm, which can be contracted by dogs after they accidentally swallow infected slugs or snails, or just by eating grass with their slime on it. Once inside the dog’s system, the parasite travels through the body eventually ending up in the heart.
An untreated infection can cause the dog's condition to deteriorate quickly, and result in death. This is even more of a danger this year, due to a higher population of slugs and snails population caused by the mild winter. While most reported cases of lungworm are in the south of England, this disease' presence has been detected as far north as Paisley, in Scotland. Reported cases of lungworm across the UK have been mapped out here.
A recent survey of UK & Irish vets by Bayer, indicates that about 66 per cent have seen a case of lungworm in their practice in the last year; London vets were found to be most likely to encounter lungworm - 83 per cent last year, followed by the East of England and Ireland.
Infected dogs may show some of the following symptoms:
- Breathing problems and coughing
- Poor blood clotting (anaemia, nose or eye bleeds, excessive blood loss from minor wounds...)
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
Mark Bossley, chief vet at national pet charity Blue Cross, said, “Recently we have seen several cases of lungworm in our London hospital, and there seems to be an increase in the number of infected dogs in the area. Each case of lungworm can be different and our clients are often quite shocked to find out their dog has been diagnosed with lungworm, especially as the signs may not always be clear. With this increase in prevalence it is important for both vets and pet owners to keep the parasite in mind and to ensure preventative treatment for lungworm is included as part of a parasite protection plan.”
Bayer, the research company behind the Be Lungworm Aware campaign, has now created an Instagram profile, @DangerousSnail25, to raise awareness of the dangers of this parasite. The campaign is backed by presenter and writer Ben Fogle and his dog Storm.
Vet Luke Gamble, said, “In @DangerousSnail25’s feed we wanted to show how easy it is for dogs to accidentally swallow slugs and snails when they play with toys, drink from puddles and water bowls left outside, or eat grass.
"Although over half of dog owners said their dogs do eat grass, only 11 per cent were aware of the potential risk that this could pose to their dogs, and only half were aware that lungworm could be caught through eating slugs or snails.”
Alan Lee and Ruth Hutchinson, from Nottingham, found out about this parasite the hard way, when they healthy Labrador Angus sadly died from the infection.
“Just after Angus's first birthday in July 2014 we took him to the vets for a kennel cough vaccination as we were both going on holiday in September and had booked him into kennels for the week. About a week later he developed a hacking cough. We returned to the vets and they assured us that the cough was due to him having the kennel cough vaccine. Similar to the flu jab, it introduces a mild form of the virus into his system in order for his body to develop immunity," Alan said.
“I then went abroad to Eire to work as I sometimes had to do and at 5am the morning I was due back, my phone rang displaying my partner Ruth's number. Thinking she had rung in error I answered it to her crying hysterically down the line and telling me that Angus had woken her howling and then died on the bed next to her. The next few minutes were a blur as I frantically tried to rearrange a quicker flight home. I also called Ruth's parents and arranged for her to be picked up and taken back to theirs. She was beside herself with grief."
Angus' cause of death turned out to have been lungworm, something neither Alan nor Ruth had expected.
Alan said, “As responsible owners we had always kept him away from slugs and snails (which he never seemed interested in) but the vet explained that he may even have picked it up eating grass infested with either small slugs or possibly even the slime they leave behind. Naively we had thought that routine worming every three months would protect him from all types of parasitic worms. We learnt the hard way that this was not the case.
“Because Angus showed none of the other common signs of lungworm such as fatigue after exercise, weight loss or breathing problems, I would advise other dog owners to get preventative treatment for the parasite right away. We have absolutely no idea how he picked up lungworm, which is the most frightening thing."
Alan and Ruth have since gone on to adopt Theo, Angus' younger brother, and are now well aware of the danger lungworm poses.
"Theo has definitely filled some of the void that Angus left. He has a preventative treatment every month for protection because we will not be taking lungworm for granted again!”
Main image by Matt Maran.