Dog owners warned of deadly disease

New research reveals that pet owners’ understanding of lungworm is still low, as parasite spreads.

According to new research, millions of dog owners are unaware of a deadly disease spreading across the UK.

While half (52%) of dog owners are unaware of lungworm, 39% admitted they didn’t know exactly what it is and a further 1 in 10 mostly younger respondents, were unaware of lungworm entirely.

Thousands of cases of the potentially fatal disease have been reported across the UK, with a fifth (21%) of dog owners saying that their own dog has had a case of lungworm, while a quarter know a dog which had a case of it.

A fifth (19%) of dog owners whose pet has actually had a case of lungworm admitted they still weren’t entirely sure what it is, while 5% didn’t know at all.

Dog owners in the north east of England (40%) and in London (39%) are most likely to have directly experienced lungworm in their pet.

Vets4Pets who carried out the research, is now working with Bayer to help inform owners of the dangers of this deadly parasite.

Dr Huw Stacey, vet and director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “Our research has discovered that awareness and particularly knowledge, of the parasite lungworm is still pretty low amongst UK dog owners.

“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 that they don’t currently give their dog any preventative treatment to protect their dog against lungworm.

“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 preventative. There are many simple steps owners can take to help prevent their dog contracting lungworm, but ensuring your dog is given lungworm preventative treatment prescribed by your vet monthly, is really the only way of keeping them protected.

“The parasite was originally believed to be limited to southern regions, but research has revealed the parasites presence in north England, and even Scotland, which were not previously considered at risk, so this is something all UK dog owners need to be aware of.”

Lungworm is a parasite that can be deadly to dogs if ingested. It uses multiple animals to help complete its lifecycle, with dogs and foxes as the primary hosts, and slugs, snails and even frogs as the intermediate hosts.

The study by Vets4Pets found that less than a third of dog owners were able to correctly identify that slugs (32%) and snails (27%) spread the lungworm parasite. Of the people surveyed, 13% thought the parasite is spread by sheep or rats and 6% of UK dog owners even thought that otters were to blame.

Evidence shows that foxes are also spreading the disease, which only 13% knew, as they can host the parasite, alongside dogs. A recent survey revealed that lungworm prevalence in foxes in Greater London has reached nearly 75%, while the national average is only 18.3%.

Stacey explains: “Lungworm is spread when the parasite’s larvae are produced inside a dog or fox and passed through faeces, which are eaten by slugs, snails or frogs who then become infected with the parasite.

“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 infects 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.

“That’s why, as well as using preventative treatment, it is crucial owners don’t leave their dog’s toys or bowls outside overnight or let them pick up sticks in the park, as these could have been exposed to slug or snail slime.

“Our research revealed that pet owners whose dogs have previously contracted lungworm are significantly more likely (97%) to leave their dog’s items outside overnight, compared to just 35% of dog owners whose pets have never contracted lungworm – so it is an important extra precaution.”

Vets4Pets recently hosted a ‘Lungworm Awareness’ Day with Bayer to educate London dog owners on the potential risk facing the thousands of dogs across the city.

With 1 in 10 people living in London owning a dog, around 310,000 dogs in the capital and 1,622 reported cases of lungworm within a 50-mile radius of central London, the parasite is a real concern in this region.

The pop-up activation in Victoria Park offered advice on how to spot lungworm and how easily it can be to be prevented to the passing dog walkers.

Vicky McAlister, senior brand manager at Bayer, said: “The Vets4Pets pop-up event is a great way to get in front of dog owners and try and combat these knowledge gaps. However, while we want to educate dog owners on what exactly lungworm is, the main thing we want to take away is knowing that this disease is easy to prevent with monthly preventative treatment.

“In recent years, lungworm has spread throughout the UK, so this information isn’t just relevant to dog owners in London, but to those across the nation. Owners can check if there are cases of lungworm in the local area at www.lungworm.co.uk/worm-map.”

For further information and advice on lungworm you can visit www.vets4pets.com/pet-health-advice/dog-advice/lungworm-and-your-dog/.