A mystery illness spreading among dogs across the UK is thought to be caused by a form of coronavirus, experts have said.

Dog owners have warned their canine friends have been falling seriously ill with sickness and diarrhoea after going on walks, with the first case reported on the Yorkshire coastline.

The bug then spread inland to other parts of England, including Leeds and Kirklees, and now leading experts in infectious diseases believe they know why.

What is causing the illness in dogs?

It is thought the sudden wave of cases could be caused by a type of coronavirus, with Canine Enteric Coronavirus (CEC) being one of the top candidates for the infection.

Professor Alan Radford, an expert in veterinary health informatics at the University of Liverpool, has been investigating the abnormally high rate of sickness and diarrhoea occurring in dogs.

He has been working as part of a specialist team headed by the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) which revealed new data that might pinpoint a possible cause.

While CEC is thought to be the most probable cause for the sickness, investigations are still ongoing.

Professor Radford told Yorkshire Live: “Analysis of real-time data collected by SAVSNET from veterinary practices suggests that in Yorkshire, levels of disease have been statistically higher than we would expect for three weeks – we can therefore call this an outbreak in Yorkshire.

“In other regions, the increases we have seen so far look more like normal seasonal variation.

"However, such signals can change quickly, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

Is the infection the same as Covid-19?

Despite its name, CEC is not linked to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and does not pose a risk to dog owners, or those that may come into contact with infected pooches.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness which range from the common cold to more severe diseases.

The types of coronavirus may share no other similarities apart from being part of the same extended family.

CEC has been around far longer than Covid-19, which is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans, and historically has only produced a relatively mild illness in dogs, despite affecting several thousands per year across the globe.

What should I do if my dog falls ill?

Owners have been advised to limit contact with other dogs if their pet starts showing symptoms of sickness and diarrhoea.

The illness will usually resolve on its own and affected dogs should make a full recovery.

However, if symptoms worsen, the condition persists, or dogs show signs of distress, owners are advised to seek advice from a vet.