Dog owners warned about pests

You may have read recently a number of stories in the press and on social media sites about parasites, pests and diseases which are causing dogs to become seriously ill and in some cases having fatal consequences. Although these cases have affected relatively small numbers and tend to be in isolated areas as dog owners we should all be aware of the causes and early warning signs.

Tick Borne Diseases

Due to the mild weather we have experienced over the last year or so the number of ticks in our countryside has risen hugely and there are a number of conditions which can be transmitted by these pests once they have become attached to your dog.

Lymes Disease can be seen in both dogs and humans following a bite from a tick carrying the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Lymes disease is an inflammatory condition which can become chronic if it is left untreated for any length of time. It can be difficult to diagnose at times but the symptoms can include lameness, inflamed lymph nodes, lethargy, fever and at times central nervous system issues. If your dog presents with any of these symptoms and you know or suspect they have been bitten by a tick, even if it is some weeks or months later, you should seek veterinary advice immediately mentioning this to your vet.

Babesiosis has been seen in a number of dogs in the Essex area of England and although at present it seems to be limited to this area there are concerns that the parasite which causes the disease will spread across the UK. The parasite is transmitted to the dogs bloodstream once a tick has been feeding for at least 24 hours and this causes the immune system to try and defend the dogs body. Unfortunately as this happens the healthy red blood cells of the dog are also attacked by the immune system which results in extreme anaemia causing the dog to become critically ill.  The symptoms of Babesiosis include loss of appetite, lethargy, pale mucus membranes such as the gums, weakness, fever and jaundice. Should you see any of these, especially if you have been walking in areas where you are likely to have come across ticks such as areas with a high deer population or sheep you should seek immediate veterinary advice.

Ehrlichiosis at present is not usually seen in the UK apart from in dogs that have recently come into the country from other parts of Europe. However there are some concerns that due to the movement of dogs between countries through the Pet Passport scheme it may develop. Ehrlichiosis is transmitted by bacterium carried by ticks and symptoms include in weight loss, fever, stiffness, loss of appetite and in some cases prolonged bleeding. Always mention to your vet if you have recently travelled abroad with your dog and they show any of the mentioned symptoms as this may influence any tests or treatments carried out.

Moving away from ticks the caterpillars of the Oak Processionary moth can also cause some very unpleasant reactions in dogs. Most commonly found between May and July around Oak trees in London and surrounding areas, these pests are covered in very fine toxic hairs which cause extreme irritation to the skin of both people and dogs should they come in contact with them. These hairs can also be released into the wind meaning your dog does not necessary need to touch the caterpillar itself to be affected. Symptoms can include swelling, irritation to the skin especially around the muzzle if a dog has investigated a caterpillar, difficulty breathing and salivating excessively. As with any type of sting the level of reaction can vary hugely between dogs so after initially rinsing your dog’s face, mouth and any other affected areas then a trip to the vets is highly advisable.

Unlike the above conditions which have known causes Alabama Rot or Cutaneous and Renal Glomeular Vasculopathy (CRGV) has yet to have the trigger identified. Although still a relatively rare illness in the UK Alabama Rot can be fatal for those dogs unfortunate enough to be affected. The majority of cases are reported in the winter or spring months and whilst it had been thought that dogs are more likely to be infected after walking in wooded areas this does not necessarily seem to be the case.

Alabama Rot causes tiny blood clots to form in the blood vessels throughout the body which can block blood getting to the kidneys resulting in kidney failure but if swift action is taken in the early stages then the risks of this happening can be reduced. Should you see any unexplained lesions, ulcers or sores on a dogs skin especially on their paws, undercarriage, around their muzzle or on their tongue on your dog then you should seek veterinary attention as a matter of urgency as this may indicate that your dog has been affected by the condition.

How can you protect your dog?

As I said at the start of this blog these conditions are still uncommon in most areas of the UK but a few simple steps can help reduce the risks further:

  • Ensuring your dog has some kind of protection against ticks.
  • Be aware of where you are walking. In many areas if there is a suspected case of any of the above then local vets and dog owners will share that information.
  • Give your dog a thorough check over after each walk. If you discover a tick and you are not comfortable removing it yourself then pop along to see your vet nurse who will be happy to assist.
  • If your dog has been in very muddy or stagnant water then rinse them or give them a bath.
  • Be aware of any injuries, cuts or sores that your dog has and if you have any concerns speak to your vet.

We are very lucky in the UK to have wonderful countryside, forests, parks and beaches to explore with our dogs and while we should remain vigilant for risks to our companions welfare we should also remember to enjoy our walks together.

For more information regarding Alabama Rot you can visit