Wigan pet owners are being urged to recognise the symptoms of a potentially fatal dog disease which has spread to the North of England.
Lungworm was originally believed to be limited to southern regions but research has revealed that the parasite has now reached as far as Scotland.
To date there have been three recorded cases of lungworm in Wigan and 13 just over the border in St Helens and Warrington.
Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “The continued spread of the lungworm parasite throughout the UK over the past ten years or so means the dog population is increasingly at risk.”
Lungworm uses multiple species to help complete its life cycle. Dogs and foxes are the primary host, while slugs, snails and even frogs are the intermediate hosts.
Larvae are produced inside the dog or fox and pass through their faeces, which are eaten by slugs and snails, where the parasite can then develop inside these hosts.
If a dog accidentally eats an infected slug or snail, or comes into contact with their slime, they can become infected too.
“Chewing grass, drinking from water bowls outside and playing with toys and sticks that have been in the garden overnight can all increase the risk of dogs contracting lungworm,” said Dr Stacey.
The parasite can often be difficult to diagnose, with some dogs not showing signs of infection for months, meaning sudden death can occur, particularly in younger dogs. The signs can also be very variable, and the coughing and breathing difficulties can often be confused with conditions like kennel cough.
Dr Stacey added: “Common signs of the disease include coughing and breathing problems, but also weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, tiredness, blood clotting or excessive bleeding from small wounds and changes in behaviour. However, in many cases of lungworm, a dog doesn’t display any clear signs of the disease for quite some time, or if they do, the signs can present very differently in each dog.”
Although it can be fatal, lungworm is preventable.
“It’s important that dog owners remember to keep up with their dog’s treatment every month,” said Dr Stacey. “Worming every three months, which is advised for other parasites, such as roundworm and tapeworm, will not be effective at preventing this parasite.
"The outcome for an affected dog in most cases is very good if it is diagnosed quickly and the dog receives prompt treatment.”