A Cheshire dog from Lower Peover has had a lucky escape from the potentially-fatal lungworm parasite (Angiostrongylus vasorum).

Zoe, a seven-year-old working Labrador, was diagnosed with the ‘hidden killer’ parasite that is spread by common slugs and snails, by staff at the Winsford Veterinary Surgery (Willows Veterinary Group). The diagnosis confirms fears that lungworm is a risk to local dogs and may be present in local parks, gardens and farmland where dogs may interact with slugs and snails.

Following Zoe’s diagnosis, veterinary surgeon at Winsford Vet Surgery Stephanie Lundie BVMS MRCVS is warning pet owners in the area to be vigilant of the signs of lungworm and discuss preventative treatment with their vet.

Stephanie said: “This was quite a complicated case. Zoe was brought to the practice because her owner had noticed that she was drinking and urinating more than usual. We didn’t initially expect the diagnosis to be lungworm as these are very unusual presenting signs for this disease, and we had not confirmed a case of lungworm at this surgery before.

“Luckily Zoe was brought to the practice in the early stages of the disease so we were able to treat her in time before the symptoms progressed any further. I believe Zoe did have a lucky escape; lungworm is life-threatening to dogs and Zoe would almost certainly have died if we hadn’t made the diagnosis rapidly and initiated her treatment.”

Symptoms of lungworm can vary and may include coughing, breathing difficulties, bleeding, general sickness and in some cases sudden death without any visible signs of the infection. Treatment can result in full recovery but preventative products are available.

Dogs can become infected with lungworm after eating common garden slugs and snails, or potentially even after swallowing the slime of an infected slug . Dog owners are warned to be extra vigilant as snails and slugs are becoming more prevalent as the weather starts to turn wet. Once inside the dog’s system, the parasite travels through the body eventually ending up in the heart. If the infection is left untreated, the dog’s health can rapidly deteriorate, and can even result in death.

Zoe’s owner, Peter Thomas explained his shock of finding out that Zoe had contracted lungworm: “I was aware of lungworm, but I must admit I didn’t know the serious implications it can have on dogs. It came as an unpleasant surprise to say the least. Stephanie at Winsford Vet Surgery pre-warned me that Zoe might not survive the infection that lungworm had caused, but she did and I was very relieved. Zoe is a great companion to me and helped me though the difficult times, especially when I was battling cancer a few years ago. She is a lovely dog.

“Zoe is now back to her normal self, and lungworm hasn’t affected her loveable and cheeky personality, but it could have been a lot more serious. I urge any person who owns a dog to speak to their vet about prevention for lungworm, especially if you take your dog out in parks and fields where slugs and snails are present as I believe Zoe contracted lungworm by eating them whilst she was out working. It is a serious danger to dogs and can’t be taken lightly.”

In light of recent news surrounding the tick prevalence in the UK, it is important to be aware that lungworm prevention should remain high on the agenda dog owners across the country.

Evidence from the Royal Veterinary College confirms the lungworm parasite has spread across the UK from its traditional habitat in the south of England and Wales. It’s now widespread in central England and has reached northern regions and Scotland, with one in five vet practices nationwide reporting at least one case of the parasite.

Chief vet at the UK’s leading animal charity, Blue Cross Mark Bossley said: “We regularly advise dog owners of the dangers of lungworm because, sadly, we see so many cases every year. It is a hidden killer so we urge dog owners to talk to their vet about preventative treatments and be vigilant with their dogs when in the garden or on walks.”

To help raise awareness of the parasite, Stephanie Lundie and Peter Thomas are joining other dog owners and vets nationwide in support of the national ‘Be Lungworm Aware’ campaign by Bayer Animal Health.

Dog owners can check the risk in their area by searching their postcode at www.lungworm.co.uk/map.