A Polegate puppy was left fighting for her life after catching a deadly parasite spread by common garden slugs and snails.
Chloe Kelly, the owner of 11-month-old dachshund Duchess, noticed her making a coughing sound so she went to her local vets for advice.
The vet initially suspected Kennel Cough as there had been an outbreak of the disease in the local area.
But, within a short time, Duchess’ symptoms worsened – she became extremely breathless and would not eat or drink, soon becoming very frail.
Further tests showed fluid on her lungs and an enlarged heart which was very worrying for everyone.
As Duchess’ condition continued to deteriorate she was referred to a specialist veterinary hospital in Brighton. It was here that lungworm was officially diagnosed.
Chloe said, “Duchess is the first dog we’ve ever owned and we had never been told about the dangers of lungworm, or about the preventative treatments available.
“After reading up on the condition, we suspected that this could be the cause of Duchess’ illness.
“We think she might have contracted lungworm either on a walk down the Cuckoo Trail or from our back garden as we see loads of slugs and snails there. Duchess is quite a forager and is often eating grass which was a big clue.
“When she became ill we were extremely worried and then devastated to hear that this infection could have been easily prevented.
“Vets should be doing everything they can to make sure pet owners are aware of the dangers of lungworm and are given the option to protect their pet with regular treatment.
“Every dog walker I see gets to hear all about lungworm as I would hate for this to happen to anyone else! ”
Duchess’ recovery took almost a month, but fortunately she is now back to full health and taking monthly preventative medicine to avoid reinfection from lungworm.
Gavin McAulay, a veterinary cardiologist who treated Duchess at New Priory Vets Brighton, said, “By the time Duchess came to us she was very unwell. We were able to diagnose her fairly quickly and we treated her with medication to improve her breathing and blood flow to her lungs.
“Luckily she improved within a number of weeks, however full recovery can be a long process. Her owners are now using monthly prevention for lungworm.
“With often confusing symptoms, it’s important that dogs are diagnosed and treated for lungworm as soon as possible. Not all dogs with lungworm cough or appear unwell initially.
“Sometimes lungworm may not be suspected until late in the disease when heart damage or bleeding complications develop. Throughout the UK lungworm should be a real consideration for vets and pet owners, and monthly prevention is key.
“There is evidence with some other parasite diseases that suggests the more animals you treat, the better protected other animals in the area may be.”
Slugs and snails carry the lungworm larvae and dogs can become infected when they accidentally or deliberately ingest these common garden pests whilst rummaging through undergrowth, eating grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls or possibly even after swallowing their slime.
Once inside the dog’s system, the parasite travels through the body, eventually ending up in the heart and the blood vessels that supply the lungs.
The symptoms are often vague and easily confused with other conditions but, if the infection is left untreated, the dog’s health can rapidly deteriorate and they can die.
It has been recognised that young dogs are more likely to become infected with the lungworm parasite, due to their inquisitive nature and new owners not knowing enough about the risks of the parasite.
Research studies show young dogs are significantly over-represented in reported lungworm cases, with the average age of affected animals being between just 10 and 14 months.
Previously limited to geographical ‘hotspots’, lungworm is becoming widespread, with two thirds of vets from across the UK reporting they have experienced at least one case in their practice within the last year.
It is likely many more cases will go unreported, making the true extent of the parasite’s reach unknown.
Unlike other parasites, such as ticks and fleas, dogs may not initially show visible signs of a lungworm infection.
Not all worming products are effective against lungworm and monthly treatment is required for complete protection, which can also help prevent the spread of the parasite.
Pet owners across the country are advised to ensure their pets are fully protected by speaking to their vet about preventative treatment against lungworm.
To help raise awareness of the parasite, dog owners and vets nationwide are supporting the national ‘Act Against Lungworm’ campaign.
Find out more information about lungworm and check the risk in your area by searching your postcode at www.lungworm.co.uk/map