DOG owners are being urged to be on their guard over a potentially fatal disease in dogs which has now spread across the UK.

Lungworm was originally believed to be limited to southern regions but its presence has been revealed in northern England and even Scotland, which were not previously considered at risk.

There have been 2,762 recorded confirmed cases of lungworm in the UK, however many are still unreported, with south-east England and Wales considered hotspot regions for cases.

Now experts from Vets4Pets and Bayer are working to raise awareness of the disease amongst dog owners and vets.

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 UK dog population is increasingly at risk.

“Cases of lungworm being seen in Scotland shows that the parasite can easily establish itself in a new area that wasn’t considered a traditional place for cases.

“Previous studies have shown that practices in south Wales and south-eastern England were between 15 and 16 times more likely to see a case than anywhere else in the UK, but this is slowly changing.”

Foxes are a host of the disease, alongside dogs, and a recent survey revealed that lungworm prevalence in foxes in Greater London has reached nearly 75 per cent. The UK average is now 18.3 per cent.

“Foxes are a key indicator, as lungworm cases are likely to be mirrored in dogs, so we can make an informed assessment of risk to dogs in areas of high numbers of infected foxes,” added Dr Stacey.

Lungworm is a parasite that uses multiple species to help complete its lifecycle. Dogs and foxes are the primary host, whilst slugs, snails and even frogs are the intermediate hosts.

Lungworm 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.

Dr Stacey said: “It is believed that the average British garden contains over 20,000 slugs and snails, so the risk of dogs encountering a potential host of the lungworm parasite is high.

“Studies have shown that even snail and slug slime is infectious too, and the larvae which are released in the slime can survive for at least 15 days.

“This means 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.”

Lungworm 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.

Common signs of the disease:

  • coughing and breathing problems, which can often be confused with conditions like kennel cough
  • weight loss
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • tiredness
  • blood clotting or excessive bleeding from small wounds
  • changes in behaviour.

Dr Stacey said in many cases, a dog doesn’t display any obvious signs of lungworm for quite some time.

He added: “An untreated dog that isn’t showing signs of lungworm can even excrete larvae for at least two years before it is treated, spreading the parasite around its local area.”

Dog owners can check if there are cases of lungworm in their local area at