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Seen a slug or snail lately?

By Janet Ainscow - Sunmist Samoyeds, Queensland

I COULD have chosen a different title for this article, but I want to get your attention. If you own a dog and have a garden, please read on. If you have seen slugs or snails in your garden, you must read this case report.

Holly was a normal, healthy, sound 10-week-old female Samoyed puppy, wormed and immunized, typically full of life and playful, inquisitive, like any normal Sam pup. That was until she was 10 weeks and two days old and I shall detail her daily journal to hell.

Wednesday - I came home from work, let her out of her kennel and noted she had left her breakfast. She had always been a good eater, and I remarked to my husband I thought Holly must be a bit "off colour". Apart from that she appeared normal. She was bathed in Asuntol that night and blow-dried, as we have paralysis tick in our area.

Thursday - She had left most of her breakfast, eaten a little. I got her out to give her some lead training and noted she was a little stiff in the rear gait, very slightly cow-hocked, just something amiss. I became alarmed when I turned a corner and she just fell over for no apparent reason. I put her up on the table and examined her. She screamed in pain when I pressed on her spine in the lumbar region. I rang my vet. We assumed she may have hurt herself playing with the other dogs and she commenced injections of Metacam (anti-inflammatory, analgesic) that night.

Friday - She was more cow-hocked and a lot stiffer in the hind legs. She could no longer carry her tail over her back. She cried in pain if I picked her up. She had eaten her food that day; the Metacam would have given her pain relief. She had another injection of Metacam that night.

Saturday - She was in much pain, but had eaten. She cried when she walked, and I was concerned she had a fracture. She had her spine and pelvis x-rayed that night. Her temperature when taken by the vet was 40.7 C. No abnormalities were detected from the x-rays. The vet diagnosed a possible spinal abscess due to her temperature and lumbar pain. She was prescribed Rilexine antibiotics with the Metacam injections to continue for pain relief.

Sunday - she was semi-paralysed in the hindquarters. I could help her to stand, but she had no control of her hind feet and could only drag them behind her. She was in a lot of pain. Her ears, which had been erect, had both fallen down. By that evening I was on the verge of ringing the vet to have her put to sleep to relieve her suffering. I hesitated because it was Sunday night. I made up a hot pack and sat her on my lap with the heat on her back hoping it may bring some relief to her back pain. Her temperature was 39.4C.

Monday morning she could only get to her feet and stand with help. I rang the vet and told her Holly was much worse and needed more pain relief. During our conversation the vet suggested as an off chance, maybe she had Rat Lung Worm.

I went to work and immediately consulted both the vets I work with. One, an equine vet, had never heard of the disease, the other had no idea of the exact symptoms. We got on the Internet and searched but not much joy. I could not find the symptoms in canines. Out of frustration, I rang a former colleague at the university vet school and discussed Holly's symptoms. She immediately said Rat Lung Worm and told me I had to get Holly into the clinic ASAP. Temperature was 39.3.

Tuesday 9.00am - Holly was examined at the university clinic. Her temperature was normal, 38.5, but she had all the symptoms of this disease. She had a general anaesthetic and a CSF tap was preformed (removal of cerebral spinal fluid). This was examined by the university laboratory. By 1.00pm I received a phone call to confirm she had indeed contracted Rat Lung Worm.

So what is Rat Lung Worm? If you are like me, you have probably never heard of this parasitic disease. It is a normal parasite in rats, just like roundworm is to dogs. Infected rats pass eggs in their faeces, which in turn are consumed by slugs and snails, which act as an intermediate host for the larvae. The rat in turn eats the snail, and the cycle is complete.

Puppies, as we all know, will eat anything. Eating an infected slug, or even eating vegetation with a snail trail on it from an infected slug, can cause infection. The larvae progresses through the gut right through the body and takes up residence INSIDE the spinal cord where it turns into a worm. This causes havoc and explains the progressive hind limb paralysis and extreme pain in the lumbar region.

Treating the disease is not all that simple either. Giving the dog a suitable anthelmintic like Ivermectin, which will kill both worm and larvae, has proven unsatisfactory. A dead worm within the spinal cord causes even more damage.

The prescribed treatment is a high dose of corticosteriods to combat the spinal cord damage. The worm has to make its own way out and hopefully into the gut to be passed out. There is extreme danger the worm will migrate and lodge in the brain. This is lethal.

Holly was given a massive dose of corticosteriods while still under anaesthetic on Tuesday morning. The Vet was only going to shave about one square inch off the back of her neck for the spinal tap, but the nurses had got her ready and shaved enough of her neck for a clean beheading! So she needs a wig but at least we have a diagnosis.

Wednesday - less then 24 hours after her initial treatment, I was delighted to see Holly standing in her kennel; both ears pricked and tail wagging. I opened her gate and she took off at a gallop with her ungainly gait, but I had trouble catching her. She is on a high dose of Prednisone now until she is back to normal. Which way the worm migrates is in the hands of Mother Nature now. Most general practitioners do not recognize the symptoms in the early stages.

This article is a warning to everyone. Eliminate rats, snails, slugs from your dog's environment. We are starting a baiting programme now for slugs and snails. Unfortunately we cannot eliminate the native rats that pop over the fence. We have permanent bait stations in and around the house where the dogs cannot reach. If you feed your dogs raw vegetables, wash them thoroughly. Humans are also susceptible to this disease. Escargot is strictly off my menu. http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/HTML/angiostrongyliasis.htm

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