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Knowledge of lungworm still low amongst dog owners

A new survey exploring dog owners’ understanding of lungworm has found that there are still significant knowledge gaps around the parasite

21 September 2019, at 9:00am

While half (52 percent) of dog owners are aware of lungworm, 39 percent admitted they don’t know exactly what it is, and a further 1 in 10, mostly younger respondents, were unaware of lungworm entirely.

A fifth (21 percent) of the dog owners surveyed by Vets4Pets also said their dog has had a case of lungworm, while a quarter know a dog who has had a case of it.

Dog owners in London (39 percent) were one of most likely to have directly experienced lungworm in their pet, according to the survey, but surprisingly 40 percent of those in the north east of England, where the parasite isn’t known to be prevalent, said their pet has had a case of lungworm.

Most worryingly, a fifth (19 percent) of dog owners whose pet has actually had a case of lungworm admitted they still weren’t entirely sure what it was, while 5 percent didn’t know at all.

Vets4Pets is now working with Bayer to close the knowledge gaps by raising awareness of the disease amongst dog owners, as well as offering advice on how important, but simple, it is to prevent.

Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, said: “Our survey has uncovered a general lack of knowledge around lungworm, with understanding of the parasite unfortunately still pretty low amongst UK dog owners.

“It appears that many people still don’t fully understand how their dogs can contract it, what threats it poses and how important, and easy, prevention is.

“Most worryingly a third of those surveyed admitted they don’t currently give their dog any preventative treatment to protect their dog against lungworm.

“And when asked why they don’t, we found that the most common impediment was apathy, or a lack of awareness, as 35 percent said they didn’t even know that lungworm was preventable.

“These results demonstrate that as vets, even with conditions we think many owners will be aware of, there is still a constant education process and preventative message to push, particularly with younger or first-time pet owners.

“And with research showing that the parasite has spread from its traditional hotspots in Wales and south east England in recent years, it is important that dog owners, and even vets, are aware of the risk nationwide, even if their area hasn’t seen cases before.”

The survey also found that less than a third of dog owners were able to correctly identify that slugs (32 percent) and snails (27 percent) spread the lungworm parasite. 13 percent thought the parasite is spread by sheep or rats, and 6 percent of UK dog owners even thought otters were to blame.

When it comes to signs of the disease, older respondents were able to identify more physical signs of lungworm. On average, dog owners aged 18-34 could identify 2.2 symptoms of the condition, whilst respondents aged 55 or over were able to identify an average of 3.7.

“Although many think that lungworm isn’t prevalent in their area, the parasite has spread throughout the UK, with cases reported all the way up in Scotland,” continued Dr Stacey.

“A study by the University of Glasgow confirmed lungworm is now endemic in Scotland, after the parasite was present in 6.7 percent of slugs and snails collected in parks around Glasgow and Ayrshire.

“And the risk of dogs coming into contact with these infected molluscs is high, as it is believed that the average British garden contains over 20,000 slugs and snails, and the larvae which are released in the slime can survive for at least 15 days.

“Our survey revealed that pet owners whose dogs have previously contracted lungworm are significantly more likely (97 percent) to leave their dog’s toys and water bowls outside overnight, compared to just 35 percent of dog owners whose pets have never contracted lungworm.

“This shows that it is also important to also push measures such as not leaving dog toys and other items in the garden overnight to owners, as an extra preventative precaution.”

Recently Vets4Pets and Bayer hosted an awareness event in London, helping dog owners understand the potential risk facing the thousands of dogs across the city.

With 1 in 10 people living in London owning a dog, around 310,000 dogs in the capital and 1,622 reported cases of lungworm within a 50-mile radius of central London, the parasite is a real concern in this region.

The pop-up activation in Victoria Park last Friday (13 September) offered advice to dog owners and walkers on how to spot lungworm and how easily it can be prevented.

Jo from Hackney, who was visiting the pop-up with her cavapoo, said: “I was aware of lungworm but I had no idea that a dog licking snail or slug slime was enough for them to catch lungworm so I’m definitely going to go away and check that we are covered with our worming treatment now.”

Vicky McAlister, senior brand manager at Bayer, said: “The Vets4Pets pop-up event is a great way to get in front of dog owners and try and combat these knowledge gaps.

“However, while we want to educate dog owners on what exactly lungworm is, the main thing we want them to take away is knowing that this disease is easy to prevent, with monthly preventative treatment.

“Educating pet owners is essential but raising awareness amongst vets is also equally as important, particularly in areas like Scotland and the north of England.

“We are working alongside vets to report cases of lungworm that they see and treat so we can keep our map up to date (lungworm.co.uk/lungworm-map).

“We would therefore encourage any vet to get in touch with us when they have a case of lungworm in practice so we can ensure the map is the best resource for dog owners to be aware lungworm prevalence in their area.”