Pet owners have been warned about a potentially deadly dog disease that is spreading across the UK.
Many owners are unaware their dog could be vulnerable to a parasite called lungworm that can be fatal if ingested by pets, according to new research.
Lungworm used to be concentrated to the south of the country and Wales but in recent years it has spread throughout Britain, according to a Vets4Pets report.
The latest figures from May show there were 2,762 reported cases of lungworm in the country.
The parasite uses multiple animals to help complete its lifecycle, with dogs and foxes as the primary hosts, and slugs, snails and frogs as the intermediate hosts.
Dr Huw Stacey, vet and director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “The parasite was originally believed to be limited to southern regions, but research has revealed the parasite’s 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.”
Dr Stacey said research showed 39% of pet owners admitted they didn’t know exactly what lungworm is, and a further 1 in 10, mostly younger respondents, were unaware of it entirely.
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The study revealed dog owners in the north-east of England (40%) and in London (39%) were most likely to have had a pet that was a victim of lungworm.
Dr Stacey added: “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 advised pet owners to ensure their dogs were given lungworm preventative treatment prescribed by their vet monthly.
Symptoms of lungworm include breathing difficulties, coughing, diarrhoea, weight loss, excessive bleeding and behavioural changes.
But the condition can be hard to diagnose because symptoms can be confused with other illnesses and sometimes there are no symptoms at all.
If pet owners do have concerns they are advised to take their dogs to see the vet.
Lungworm larvae are made inside dogs and foxes and are then deposited on the ground through their faces.
This is how the parasite transfers to slugs and snails, which then carry it on.
Pets can be infected if they come in contact with slime from the slugs and snails but a dog cannot pass lungworm to another dog.
The condition is more prevalent during spring and autumn.
Owners can check if there are cases of lungworm in their local area here.