Killer dog illness research begins

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DOG owners are being told to told to stay on high alert for signs of a mystery killer dog illness which struck last autumn.

Seasonal Canine Illness (SCI) struck down almost 50 dogs in Norfolk last year, with Thetford Forest among the areas worst hit.

With little known about the illness, animal health experts are urging owners to remain vigilant while research into SCI is stepped up.

Richard Newton, of the Animal Health Trust, said that an investigation could take time.

“We know that if cases recur this year we’re most likely to see them from August to November. We also know that if a dog is affected, clinical signs come on very quickly and the dog owner should seek veterinary help as soon as possible,” he said.

Having been identified as a hotspot for SCI, Thetford Forest will be a focal point for researchers.

However, Trevor Banham, chief wildlife ranger at Thetford Forest, said there was little for dog walkers to worry about.

“Our rangers take lots of dogs into the forest every day and we haven’t had a single problem.

“One of the cases we had last year was of a dog who had been on a lead throughout his whole time in the forest. The owner’s other dog – which wasn’t on a lead – didn’t get ill at all. We’ve just got no idea what is causing it,” he said.

Mr Banham added that cases had been reported in Hockwold and Santon Downham, with two dogs dying.

Researchers at the Nottingham University Veterinary School are looking into the causes of SCI with the help of Forestry Commission and various other agencies.

They are asking dog owners to report any cases of SCI to their local vet.

Jo Atkinson, from the Forestry Commission, said: “Although no cases have yet been reported this year, we are working with our many partners to get a clearer picture.”