Mystery dog illness: expert advice from Haywards Heath vets director and surgeon Julia Mewes

As concern grows about a ‘mystery’ dog illness spreading across the UK, a Haywards Heath-based vet has offered her expert advice and reassurance.

Dr Julia Mewes, practice director and vet surgeon at The Mewes Vets in Haywards Road, said her practice is not seeing a high number of dogs with upset stomachs at the moment.

Common symptoms reported by owners across the UK include dogs being weak and listless, shaking and vomiting.

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The British Veterinary Association said reports of ‘gastroenteritis-like symptoms’ had sparked speculation that the illness could be linked with visits to beaches.

Healthy dogs in Sussex. Picture: Steve Robards, SR1921358.

But Julia said: “We have not recognised this particular group of symptoms recently in our doggy patients.”

“We did see a spike in cases of pets very poorly with vomiting just in the weeks running up to Christmas, especially in the younger generation, but luckily that bout appears to have died down again,” she added.

Julia said that vets are used to treating the symptoms that have been reported and can usually nurse dogs better in a few days.

“Vets do expect to see bouts of upset tummies at intervals,” she said, adding that The Mewes Vets will see about four or five cases a week, which could be related if the symptoms appear similar.

Julia said vets should also check to see if a pet has swallowed something it should not have because a ‘foreign body’ can obstruct the bowels and mimic the signs of a stomach bug at first.

A pet with a ‘foreign body’ inside would need urgent surgery, she said, whereas a dog with a stomach bug just needs supportive care and maybe intravenous fluid therapy.

“We would also check for problems such as pancreatitis, which can also cause these types of symptoms,” she said.

Julia went on to say that there is ‘no evidence’ the recent bug is a new virus.

“It could be a variant or mutation of an established virus, or it could be simply that the younger generation is a new cohort of pets that need to learn how to be immune to this particular bug,” she said.

“It’s like sending your kids to school – they will occasionally come home with a cold, except for dogs it’s more often a stomach bug than a respiratory infection.”

Julia said owners whose pet has been sick once, but is in good spirits, should stop feeding the pet for a few hours.

But if the vomiting is particularly physical and repeated, or if there is blood in the vomit or the pet is not itself, she urged owners to seek urgent veterinary attention.

“If your pet has vomited more than five times in 24 hours, you should at least seek phone advice about whether or not to have them checked over,” she said.

Vets will want to examine the pet, said Julia, so they can rule out a foreign body or pancreatitis.

With stomach bugs, she said, supportive care can reduce the pet’s nausea and maintain its hydration and calorie needs until it recovers.

Julia said there is no need for owners to change their routine or stop taking their dogs to the beach.

“Have fun with your dog, no need to wrap them in cotton wool,” she said.

“But be aware that sometimes pets do pick up bugs, just like children. No pet stays healthy all its life, so consider pet insurance against veterinary fees.”

She also advised owners to make sure their pet’s vaccines and worm treatments are up to date.

“One of the diseases we vaccinate against, called parvovirus, is a classic example of a virus causing a very severe, even fatal upset stomach,” she said, adding that the virus is completely preventable with vaccination.

The Mewes Vets Ltd was named best UK vets top 25 in 2019 and 2020, and was the Best Vet in West Sussex Winner 2021.