A Cautionary Tale: The dangers of Slugs

Take care of what your pets are eating!

Whilst I was doing work experience at the Wildlife Aid Foundation, one of my favourite jobs was cleaning out the hoglets’ (baby hedgehogs) cages. Their sniffling noses and fluffy bellies are enough to make anyone love them. One day when I was inspecting for ticks, I heard a high-pitched squealing from one of the cages. When I asked one of the vets what was wrong with this hoglet, she told me that the hog had caught a lungworm from eating a slug.

Lungworms have become an increasingly common blight for hedgehogs and other animals in Britain, particularly in the South. These lungworms are parasitic and are found in slugs which have eaten infected rat faeces. The worms pierce through the stomach lining and then travel through the bloodstream to the lungs or heart where they lay their eggs. They are particularly malign because they can cause cardiac or respiratory diseases, shown through symptoms such as coughing, and can even cause blood haemorrhages in the rest of the host’s body. I was told that this is so painful for the animals that they often die from the stress.

For larger household animals, such as cats or dogs, that are affected by lungworm, the symptoms are quite clear and can typically be noticed easily. They include coughing, weight loss and breathing problems. With other British wildlife such as foxes and hedgehogs, which also eat slugs, the problem is far harder to spot and so spreads quickly. In order to diagnose lungworm, a vet must do a full medical history check on the animals, including chest scans and examination of respiratory secretions, to detect any ova or larvae. Even after all of these checks, a vet cannot attain a definite diagnosis for these small animals which makes this blight so difficult to manage.

Despite the increasing pressure that this lungworm parasite is putting on wildlife organisations and conservationists, it has only come under public scrutiny recently after the death of Sam Ballard. Sam tragically died after 8 years in a coma from eating a slug as a dare; it left him paralysed as a teenager. As with other zoonotic diseases, like Mad Cow disease, the media only begins to focus on the scale of the problem after a human death.

The moral is to never eat uncooked snails or slugs and take care about what your pets are eating! The hedgehog that I heard coughing was put on a course of antibiotics which did eventually save its life but the vets in the Wildlife Aid Foundation told me that this hoglet was one of a lucky few who was brought in early enough to be saved. If any student finds a sick or injured hedgehog or other wild animals, you can call the Wildlife Aid Foundation at 09061 800132. 

Anna VII, taken from CaCO3