As a dog owner, what can be better than wrapping up warm and going for a walk with your four legged friend down the seemingly endless tracks through Thetford Forest.  The autumn colour in the forest is stunning and we are lucky to have this amazing facility on our doorstep.  One question that we frequently get asked though is whether it is safe to walk dogs in the woods at this time of year.  The reason for this concern is the risk posed by a disease known as Seasonal Canine Illness (SCI).

So what is SCI? Cases were first recorded in the Autumn of 2009 in dogs that had been walked in the woods on the Sandringham Estate.  Very soon cases were also seen in Thetford Forest, Sherwood Forest, Clumber Park and Rendlesham Forest too.

All dogs affected by SCI have sickness, diarrhoea and severe lethargy starting within three days of a woodland walk.  The vast majority of cases (if not all) are seen in the Autumn with a peak in September.  The cause is still unknown despite investigation by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) at Newmarket but one theory is that harvest mites may be involved

So what does this mean for you and your dog?  The good news is that with prompt treatment the vast majority of cases make a full recovery over seven to ten days.  As a veterinary surgeon one difficulty that we have is that because the cause is as yet unknown there is no specific test that we can do for SCI.  The diagnosis is made by the history that you give us (a recent woodland walk), suspicious clinical signs (sickness, diarrhoea and lethargy) and by excluding other causes of sickness and diarrhoea (of which there are many!).

Without a known cause there is no specific treatment so treatment is what we call symptomatic and supportive.  In other words treat the symptoms and provide support in the form of intravenous fluids if required and other medications such as drugs to control nausea and antacids together with antibiotics if indicated.  Due to the possible link with harvest mites we will do a thorough check for mites looking especially between your dog’s toes and will recommend the use of a spray containing fipronil if any mites are spotted.

The good news is that the number of dogs dying from SCI seems to be reducing.  The AHT reported that in 2010 twenty percent of cases reported to them were fatal whereas in 2012 this had reduced to less than two percent.  The reason for this reduction is unclear but may be due to increased awareness of the disease among owners and prompt treatment.

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