Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen
In my career both as a vet and in the media I’ve been asked to do some fairly strange things – pulling a guinea pig’s head out of a coconut, dressing up as a 50’s garage mechanic in the Blue Peter pantomime and dancing to The One Show theme tune on the BBC to name but a few – so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a request which involved having my photo taken with a dog bowl, umbrella and a selection of snails and slugs!
The photo shoot – and rather unusual props – was all in aid of a campaign called Be Lungworm Aware which is trying to raise awareness of a very nasty condition that is increasingly affecting dogs called lungworm, or French heartworm.
The disease is caused by a microscopic worm called angiostrongylus vasorum which is transmitted to dogs from its main hosts which are molluscs such as snails and slugs. When inquisitive dogs lick or swallow slugs or snails, the parasite enters their system and then larvae migrate to the lungs where they can cause life-threatening symptoms including bleeding, breathing difficulties, weakness and collapse. There is a very effective treatment, which is a simple spot-on flea product called Advocate, but the problem is mainly one of awareness as most dog owners – and even many vets – don’t know about this parasite and the devastating effects it can have on dogs. Part of the reason for this lack of awareness is the fact that until recently the parasite that causes the disease has been limited to a few geographical hotspots, mainly in the south-east. However in recent years the parasite has become much more widespread and there have now been cases as far afield as Scotland and Kent, so it really is a UK-wide problem.
With this in mind, the aim of the photo shoot was to generate publicity for the campaign and try to educate dog owners about the dangers lungworm can pose. The campaign is also trying to advise people about how to spot the potential signs of infection, which include bleeding and poor blood clotting, breathing difficulties, generalised lethargy and illness and even behavioural changes, as early diagnosis and treatment is vital in preventing the most serious consequences of infection with this parasite, which include fatalities.
To really get the message across about the main source of infection for dogs, which is slugs and snails, the PR company involved decided to create a picture with me and a dog huddling under an umbrella as a rain of molluscs comes down all around us! The rain of snails and slugs was something that would be added in using a computer, but the director wanted a few real snails to be in the shot, so consequently I found myself holding a dog bowl covered in snails in one hand, an umbrella in the other and a dog between my legs as I crouched in a damp and cold Oxfordshire field.
I do hope the pictures do get some good exposure as it’s a very worthwhile campaign and if I can help prevent some of these devastating cases then I will be really pleased – and it will certainly make the experience of squatting in a field holding snails well worthwhile!