Vets are warning dog owners in Portsmouth to be on their guard over an increased threat of lungworm.
Oncoming winter weather means dogs are more likely to come into contact with snails and slugs, both common hosts of the lungworm parasite.
Experts say even keeping pets from accidentally or deliberately eating the molluscs might not help in the fight against the spread of the disease.
More than 40 reports of the parasite have been recorded in the Portsmouth area.
Symptoms can include changes to breathing, such as coughing or running out of breath easily, weight loss and a reduced appetite.
In advanced cases it can cause life threatening bleeding disorders.
Justyn Loveridge, veterinary surgeon practice owner at Vets4Pets in Portsmouth, said: ‘The distribution and risk of lungworm in the UK has increased since it was first detected in the 1970s and has grown even more in the past few years.
‘More than 42 cases of lungworm have been detected in the Portsmouth area and it’s this time of year when dogs have a greater chance of encountering infected areas.
The lifecycle of lungworm begins when larvae produced by adult lungworms inside dogs or foxes, are passed through their faeces and then transferred to slugs and snails who feed upon the excrement.
Justyn added: ‘Dogs love to roam around and explore the outdoors, so can easily come into contact with the infected slugs and snails, and either accidentally or deliberately eat the molluscs or ingest their slime.
‘If this happens, the larvae are absorbed in the dog’s gut and develop into adults which live between the heart and lungs, until they are coughed up and swallowed, then the whole cycle begins again.
‘These signs are not a sure guarantee of lungworm, so if your dog is displaying any of the symptoms, it is essential to take them into your local vet so further tests can be done to reach a diagnosis.
‘Luckily there are a number of simple treatments, including a spot-on-product or tablets, which are easy to administer and very effective at protecting dogs against lungworm.’