Peterborough dog owners warned of dangerous seasonal illness affecting pets

As autumn is drawing in, it’s not just colder temperatures Peterborough dog owners need to be aware of, but a deadly illness that becomes rife at this time of year.

Bobby the sprocker spaniel.
Bobby the sprocker spaniel.

Seasonal canine illness (SCI) is a life-threatening illness which becomes more prevalent between August and November.

While little is known about the condition, it tends to affect dogs that have been walked in a wooded area up to three days before becoming ill.

According to emergency vet care provider Vets Now, the first case of SCI was reported in 2010 after dogs had been walked in woodland in the Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

Steve Johnson with Bobby.

Since then, cases appear to be most prevalent in Lincolnshire, East Anglia, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire.

Raquel Amils-Arnal, video vet at Vets Now’s Peterborough clinic, said: “The cause of SCI in dogs has been the subject of vigorous debate and research, but it remains unknown.

“Theories have ranged from allergic reactions to mushrooms (which has now been discounted), algae or agricultural chemicals to infections from harvest mites.

“The reason for this is many of the dogs struck down by SCI have been infested with the tiny insects.”

It can be difficult for vets to make a definitive diagnosis of SCI, partly because so little is known about the condition and partly because the symptoms of the disease are so similar to many other conditions affecting dogs.

If your dog is hospitalised, they may be placed on a drip and given intravenous fluid, and prescribed anti-sickness medicine and, in rare cases, antimicrobials.

Raquel said: “It’s likely your vet will also take steps to rule out other causes.

“This may involve carrying out tests including radiographs, ultrasound, haematology and biochemistry blood tests, and urine and/or faecal tests.

“If harvest mites are present, then your vet may also prescribe treatment to eliminate them.”

Raquel advised dog owners to be vigilant and use a lead during woodland walks, as well as keeping your dog well hydrated, closely monitoring him for mites and raising awareness of SCI by telling others about the disease.

If you’re concerned contact your vet straight away or, if it’s out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency service.

Steve Johnson and his partner Becky Soutar know all too well how dangerous SCI can be, as their dog Bobby fell dangerously poorly with the illness last month.

The eight-month-old sprocker (a Springer/Cocker Spaniel-cross) came to live with the couple just before lockdown back in March, and Steve said he settled in straight away.

A typically lively spaniel, Bobby is full of energy and loves meeting new people, which is why it was such a shock to see him fall ill.

Steve said: “I got up with him at around 7.15am and he was fine to start with, but within half an hour he was vomiting and had terrible diarrhoea, and he was laid on the floor with muscle tremors. He was off his food too, which was very unlike him.”

Steve and Becky considered waiting a while to see if he perked up, but he was in a lot of pain so they phoned a Veterinary Centre, and were told to bring him in right away.

An inquisitive and friendly puppy, Steve said that Bobby normally can’t wait to meet new people but was just laid morosely in their car when they had their initial consultation in the car park and they knew it was serious.

“Initially they thought it might be a gastroential problem, but within a few hours we were asked if he’d been walked in any woods lately, and as he had, we were told it could be seasonal canine illness as they had another dog with the same symptoms.”

As there is no test for SCI, Bobby was put on a drip overnight and given anti-sickness medication, and before long was sent to recover at home as he would be more comfortable there.

Thankfully, within a couple of days of eating his favourite foods, Bobby regained his strength and is now back to his normal bouncy self.

Steve said he’s so glad they contacted their vet as soon as they did, and urged anyone whose dog was displaying any symptoms to take them to their vet straight away.

“If your dog seems out of character, contact your vet quickly.

“We would have regretted it if we’d have left it any longer to get him seen, especially after reading stories online about people who’d waited overnight to see if their dog got better.

“The best thing to do is to get them seen.”

What is seasonal canine illness?

SCI is a rare illness which typically occurs in the autumn months between August to November.

The key symptoms of SCI are vomiting, diarrhoea and tiredness within 72 hours of being in a woodland area, and can affect any dog of any size, shape, age or gender.

Unfortunately as very little is known of SCI, there is no specific cure. However, some of the symptoms can be alleviated, which means that if your dog receives vet attention, quickly most will recover from SCI.

In some rare cases, SCI has been known to be very severe and sadly some dogs don’t survive.

The illness is very rare and according to the Animal Health Trust, there has been a decrease in fatal cases since 2010. However, the exact number of cases is unknown because there is no known cause.

To reduce the risk of SCI, dog owners should be sure to closely monitor their dog after they have been on a woodland walk.

As research suggests that harvest mites are commonly seen in dogs suffering from SCI, use preventative spray against mites before you walk your dog.

If you suspect that your dog is exhibiting signs of SCI, you should contact your vet immediately, especially if he has been to a wooded area within 72 hours.

(source: Blue Cross)