A painful and rare condition.
Slugs and Snails Are Not a Delicacy for Dogs
Oliver’s owners knew something was wrong when at 11 weeks old he lay on his side groaning in pain. When he came into Vet HQ for a consultation he certainly wasn’t the over-excited and boisterous puppy who we met just days earlier at puppy school.
On physical examination he had quite a lot of pain in his lower spine and hips and showed signs of urinary incontinence which he hadn’t had previously. We performed blood and urine tests which were all pretty normal. However, the following day, Oliver was still uncomfortable even with pain relief. We performed radiographs which showed a narrowed space between 2 of the bones in his spine but this was unlikely to be causing the symptoms he had. By now his back legs were becoming weak and he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
We became suspicious of a rare disease called Angiostrongylus cantonensis which is otherwise known as “rat lungworm”. This is a parasitic disease that infects the heart and lungs of wild rat populations. The larvae can be coughed up or passed in the rats’ stool and can infect molluscs (slugs and snails). Infection in dogs can occur if they eat infected molluscs and it can cause muscle weakness, urinary incontinence, spinal pain and paralysis.
Studies have hypothesised that the ‘mouthing’ behaviour of puppies makes them more susceptible to ingesting the infective larvae. Interestingly, it has also become a cause of disease in humans with at-risk populations of infants and intoxicated adult males (who eat snails for a dare)! The disease has been well documented in Queensland but wasn’t reported in Sydney until the 1990s, likely attributable to the extension in geographic range of molluscs.
We referred Oliver to a specialist hospital where they performed a CT scan and a CSF tap (testing of a sample of spinal fluid). Oliver’s results came back suggestive of ‘rat lungworm’ and he was placed in intensive care on IV antibiotics, steroids, an epidural to help control his pain and an IV drip of pain relief.
Oliver is now back at home and on the road to recovery. He is much happier and is walking around with no problems. His owners are now on the lookout for slugs to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistake twice and we wish him good health in the many years he has to come.