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Are "pet foxes" aiding the rise of lungworm in dogs?

13 July 2019, at 9:00am

New research shows that some pet owners encourage foxes to visit their homes despite the risk of lungworm infections in domestic pets.

New pet owner research, commissioned by Bayer, reveals that one in seven British adults actively encourage fox visitors into their home and garden, yet more than three quarters (85 percent) are not aware foxes are a carrier of Angiostrongylus vasorum, despite links between fox presence and lungworm risk in dogs.

Despite the risk to dogs, one in ten adults surveyed admitted to leaving out food, water or toys for foxes and almost half (48 percent) admitted they would feel disappointed if their garden fox did not return at night.

Nationwide surveys of foxes reported in 2008 and 2015 revealed an increase in the prevalence of Angiostrongylus infection from 7.3 percent to 18.3 percent. More recent work led by Professor Mark Fox at the Royal Veterinary College has shown that, in the Greater London area, nearly three out of four foxes (74.4 percent) are infected with this parasite.

Professor Mark Fox explains:

“We had previously mapped the distribution of Angiostrongylus in pet dogs by seeing how many cases every small animal practice in Britain had seen over the previous 12 months. This revealed the parasite’s widespread distribution coupled with hotspots of infection in Greater London/south-east England and South Wales, where dogs were four to five times more likely to be infected than elsewhere in the country. We then investigated why hot spots were seen in these locations and, apart from land type, dog density and climatic factors, we found that the mere presence of foxes locally increased the risk of infection in dogs five-fold.”

“The overall prevalence of infection in Greater London was very high, at just under 75 percent, and prevalence was maintained at this level throughout the year. These results suggest that foxes act as year-round, wild animal reservoirs of infection for urban dogs”.

With one in six (16 percent) dog owners having seen fox faeces in their garden over the last 12 months, the risk of garden slugs and snails picking up the parasite from fox faeces and subsequently infecting dogs is a concern.

Donna Tomlinson, Bayer Senior Brand Manager comments: “The recent ‘pet foxes’ pet owner research results coupled with the lungworm prevalence fox studies highlights the growing concern of the spread of Angiostrongylus vasorum in the UK and the need for adequate preventative measures for pet dogs. Veterinary professionals are perfectly placed to advise dog owners on the risk of their pets becoming infected with the parasite, including the growing role of foxes as potential wild animal reservoirs of Angiostrongylus, as well as advising pet owners to use a monthly spot-on prevention such as Advocate.”

Treatment with products containing moxidectin, such as Advocate, not only kills lungworms present at the time of treatment but also kills larvae after ingestion preventing new infections. Regular monthly use prevents disease and ensures that no lungworm larvae are shed in dogs’ faeces which helps to prevent the spread of the parasite in the environment.

To highlight the increased prevalence of lungworm in foxes Bayer have created a poster for veterinary practices, which can be requested by visiting the Bayer Vet Centre.