The number of dogs falling ill from gastroenteritis-like symptoms in several parts of Yorkshire and North East England has recently increased.
There had been speculation the illness could be linked to visiting local beaches, but the same symptoms have now been detected inland.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) said there is not enough evidence to link it to beaches or environmental factors at the moment, advising owners not to panic.
What is the vomiting bug in dogs?
Owners have reported cases of dogs being struck by a sickness bug, with symptoms including frequent vomiting - more than is usually seen in canine gastroenteritis cases.
Other symptoms can include diarrhoea, anorexia and lethargy.
The main symptoms of the virus so far are severe vomiting, diarrhoea and significant dehydration and weakness.
Most dogs make a full recovery following prompt veterinary care to treat the symptoms.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on Friday (14 January), BVA President Justine Shotton said: “With gastroenteritis, most cases are mild, but some dogs may need hospitalisation with a drip.
“In the worst situations, it can become haemorrhagic leading to secondary complications or even death, but that is very rare.”
Are cases linked to beaches?
Dr Shotton said: “At this time, we can’t speculate on what might be causing the symptoms, and there is currently no evidence to suggest a direct link between the illness and the dogs visiting the beaches.”
“We’ve heard reports from vets in the area who are really far inland and they are also seeing an increase in these kinds of cases in dogs that have never been to the beach, so I’m not sure yet if we have enough information to make that link,” she added.
Where has the virus been seen?
Latest figures from the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) show that in Yorkshire, levels of the disease have been statistically higher over three weeks.
Therefore the spike in cases can be termed as an outbreak in this region.
British Veterinary Association President Justine Shotton believes the illness is not connected to the coast and instead caused by a virus.
Cases have also been reported inland as well as on the coast - but so far these correspond to normal seasonal variation, according to SAVSNET.
What could be the cause?
Dr Shotton suggested that there could be a seasonal link to dogs falling ill with this illness.
She said: “While pet owners are understandably worried, the cases may be part of a normal increase in gastroenteritis that vets see during the colder months.
“We saw saw something similar a couple of years ago, and the latest data from the University of Liverpool’s veterinary surveillance database points to the spike being part of normal seasonal variation at the moment.”
Is the illness linked to Covid?
Investigations into the mystery illness are ongoing as experts look for answers to a rise in cases.
Professor Alan Radford, an expert in veterinary health informatics at the University of Liverpool, has been carrying out one of the leading studies into the high rate of sickness and diarrhoea in dogs.
It is thought the sudden wave of illnesses could be caused by a type of coronavirus known as CEC (Canine Enteric Coronavirus), different to the Covid strain which caused the pandemic among humans.
Dogs ill from the virus do not pose the same threat to human health.
CEC has been around longer than Covid but they are both part of the coronavirus family of viruses which include common cold, flu and other more severe diseases.
What should concerned owners do?
Dr Shotton advised owners to not panic and talk to their vet if they have any concerns.
She also encouraged veterinary practices to report any cases to help researchers in their investigations.
She said: “Our advice to concerned owners is to contact their local vet for prompt treatment if their dog shows any signs of illness, such as vomiting and diarrhoea.
“BVA is asking vets to report any gastroenteritis-like cases to SAVSNET to help researchers build a clearer picture of the outbreak and to investigate if the spike is part of normal seasonal variation or if a specific virus or bacteria is at play.”
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