What is Seasonal Canine Illness (SCI)?

In autumn 2009 and 2010, there were many reports of dogs becoming seriously ill after walking on countryside sites, particularly woodland. Tests by Natural England have ruled out man made poisons, but the actual cause(s) of the illness remain unknown.

Cases of what is now called Seasonal Canine Illness appear to have been concentrated in East Anglia, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Warwickshire, although there have been reports from further afield.

What does Seasonal Canine Illness cause?

Symptoms have generally been displayed by the animals within 24 hours of walking in countryside/woodlands. Symptoms have included severe vomiting, diarrhoea, shaking and trembling and in some cases, high temperature.

Cases have generally been treated supportively, with fluids by drip and with antibiotics. Although the majority of dogs have recovered within ten days, in some cases the dogs have died.

Exact numbers of dogs involved are not known. However, the Animal Health Trust issued questionnaires and those completed for East Anglia and Nottinghamshire showed 6 cases in the Sherwood Forest/Clumber Park area and 47 cases in Sandringham Estate and Thetford Forest. It is still unclear what is causing Seasonal Canine Illness, so we are not in a position to say where you should or should not walk your dog.

What is being done to find out more?

As it is likely that other cases went unreported in previous years we are hoping to build up a comprehensive picture of any future cases that occur. Various agencies have therefore teamed up to ensure that data collection is coordinated, and to enable research into the possible causes.

The Animal Health Trust hope to get more responses from owners of all dogs walked in affected areas (including dogs not taken ill, as this helps to build a picture).

Nottingham University Veterinary School are carrying out two research projects in the autumn, to try and develop a test for the toxin.

Landowners are hoping to work with vets to find out about cases more rapidly, to help them inform people using their sites for dog walking.

The Veterinary Poisons Information Service will also be monitoring their enquiries for unusual cases that may be referred to them where SCI could be among the possible causes of illness.

Who can help?

Everyone concerned with animal welfare can help! Below are some tips for pet owners and also staff from veterinary practices.

What can dog owners do?

  • Be vigilant for signs of illness and contact a vet immediately if concerned
  • Be aware of where your dog is and what it may be eating/drinking/walking through
  • Dog owners may wish to keep their dog on a lead
  • Fill in the Animal Health Trust questionnaire if you have walked your dog in an affected area, even if your dog has not become ill. There are specific questionnaires for various sites that can be downloaded from the Animal Health Trust website here.
  • Notify other pet owners you encounter about the project – spread the word!

What can vets do?

1) Report suspected cases to local landowners in Nottingham area via the email alert system as described below:

  • Send an email to enquiries.sherwood@forestry.gsi.gov.uk. In this email please document when and where the incident occurred together with a few outline details of the case you have handled.
  • Please also include your surgery contact details.
  • These details will be passed on to the relevant landowners, who can then inform dog owners of any cases in their area and to create a clearer picture of numbers and locations of case

2) Collect and store (freeze) samples of vomit/stomach content/blood on a speculative basis, for possible use in the Nottingham University research project. For details about sample size see below

3) Please notify the University of Nottingham by email if you have such samples. They will contact you about these when the research project is underway.

4) Encourage the pet owners to complete the Animal Health Trust questionnaires that can be downloaded from the Animal Health Trust Website here.

5) Please display the Animal Health Trust information sheet (please click here to download) and questionnaire (please click here to download) prominently in your surgery.

What research is being carried out?

Research plans at The University of Nottingham on the issue of seasonal canine illness are at an early stage but are likely to focus on toxins naturally occurring in plants, fungi and algae blooms in woodland areas which may fit the profile as a potential cause of the sudden onset of these symptoms in dogs.

Studies led by two third-year veterinary science students beginning this autumn will aim to establish and validate a test for one such toxin and to determine the most successful way of storing and analysing batches of samples taken from pets that have been affected. This should put us in a far better position to conduct further studies into pinpointing the exact cause of this illness if and when it occurs next year.

The University are currently unsure what they may need in the way of samples, if any, this year. Therefore, they are not accepting samples at the current time. However, if vets are willing to collect, freeze and store body fluid samples themselves, on a speculative basis, this would be helpful for ongoing research. Please keep a record of any preservatives or drugs used.

What should I do if I have samples?

Please send any details of samples stored to Peter.Brown@nottingham.ac.uk

Samples of interest are:

  • Blood 5-10 ml
  • Urine 10-20 ml
  • Stomach content or vomit 20 ml (minimum)
  • Researchers will not be testing water, plant or soil samples.