A statement has been issued on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme about the recent spike of the unknown dog virus resulting in gastroenteritis-like symptoms in parts of Yorkshire and North East England, which has prompted speculation that they could be linked to visits to local beaches.
However, BVA president, Dr Justine Shotton, told BBC Radio 4 on Friday, January 14, that there was not enough evidence currently to suggest that the spike in cases are linked to visits to beaches or other environmental factors. Currently there is no evidence to provide any causes of the increase in cases.
She has advised owners not to panic and to talk to their vet in case they have any concerns.
“We are aware of a recent spike in cases of dogs falling ill from gastroenteritis-like symptoms in several parts of Yorkshire and North East England,” Dr Shotton said.
“Vets see gastroenteritis cases relatively commonly in practice, but numbers seem to be increasing and more widespread than usual.
“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.
“With gastroenteritis, most cases are mild, but some dogs may need hospitilisation with a drip. In the worst situations, it can become haemorrhagic leading to secondary complications or even death, but that is very rare.”
Dr Julian Norton, a veterinary surgeon who owns and runs multiple practices in Yorkshire and has treated many dogs for the virus in recent weeks admits that the cause has still not been confirmed.
“It seems to be non-specific pathogens: as far as I know there hasn’t been a specific virus, bacteria or parasite identified as the cause,” he said.
“Gastroenteritis is a common problem in dogs, but it’s fair to say we see many more cases during the winter months when there seems to be more mud, dirt and general bugs everywhere.
“Of course, dogs live near the ground, lick their feet, drink from dirty puddles and eat all sorts of grubby things in hedgerows.
“They love sniffing other dogs and never use antiseptic washes for their paws, so it’s probably no surprise that they are exposed to a wide range of potentially nasty pathogens.
“A dog’s digestive system is pretty robust and the strong acid in their stomach is an excellent first-line protective mechanism, although it doesn’t always work.”
Dr Norton added that plenty of dogs and owners have been getting on with life as normal without any issues.
“I think the best advice would be to try and keep affected dogs away from public places if possible,” he said.
“Affected dogs seem to be lethargic and don’t want to go out for many walks, so that isn’t so difficult. They’ll be happy to stay in the garden.”
Dr Shotton suggests a possible seasonal link to the cases.
“While pet owners are understandably worried, the cases may be part of a normal increase in gastroenteritis that vets see during the colder months,” she said.
“We 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.
“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.”
Dr Shotton also advised veterinary practices to report any cases to help researchers in their investigations: “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.”