The Animal Health Trust (AHT) has called for a nationwide investigation into the causes of seasonal canine illness (SCI).
SCI is a mystery illness that can make dogs that have walked in woodland suddenly become ill. In 2013, 143 cases were reported to the AHT from across its five study sites in Nottinghamshire and East Anglia.
Despite no definitive cause being identified, a number of cases had an obvious infestation with harvest mites and to investigate a possible link, the AHT advised dog owners to spray their dogs with fipronil flea and tick spray during the high-risk autumn months.
A separate pilot study was conducted where 24 owners were provided with the spray and although no definitive conclusions could be drawn, the AHT would like to see the study expanded.
Richard Newton, head of epidemiology and disease surveillance at the AHT said: “Through evaluating our pilot study we are confident that a larger, perhaps nationwide, study would be useful in further testing the possible association between harvest mites and SCI.
“However, due to the size of the pilot study, we are not able to make valid conclusions as to whether fipronil spray protects against harvest mites. This, in turn, obviously means we cannot confirm or deny whether harvest mites have a direct correlation to SCI.
Although nothing has been proven, Dr Newton is convinced the study has served a useful purpose in raising awareness of the illness.
He said: “Despite the current lack of funding to continue our investigation to find a cause, I am confident that because dog owners remain so passionate about protecting their, and other people’s, dogs from SCI that awareness of the problem in autumn will remain high, affected dogs will continue to get treatment quickly and the number of fatalities will be far fewer that when we first started investigating.”