Dog owners in the East Midlands have been asked to take part in a new pilot study that it is aiming to get to the bottom of why hundreds of animals have died in nearby forests.

People who walk their dogs on the Queen’s Norfolk estate are being invited to take part in the scheme, which will aim to determine why animals in Sandringham and Thetford Forest have been dying from a mystery illness over the last few years.

It is believed that it may be linked to harvest mites, which has led to the Animal Health Trust offering free samples of a spray which it says can help to combat the disease, known as Seasonal Canine Illness (SCI).

The charity has been investigating the disease for three years and has found that illnesses and deaths are usually seen from August to November, with symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy between one and three days after being walked in the woodland.

This year, there have been 49 cases of SCI so far, and the trust is taking action by offering local dog owners free samples of a spray called Fipronil, through a voucher that they can redeem at their vets.

To eliminate harvest mites as a potential cause of SCI, the trust is advising dog owners to treat their dogs with a Fipronil spray directly before walking in woodlands, explained Charlotte Robin, the trust’s SCI research co-ordinator.

She told the Eastern Daily Press: "Dog owners need to be aware that using Fipronil spray may not protect their dog from SCI, but it could protect them from harvest mites and other external parasites. What we are trying to do with this study is eliminate the harvest mite and other external parasites from our enquiries."

If harvest mites are not causing SCI, then using the spray is unlikely to prevent dogs from contracting SCI, Ms Robin added, and advised owners to remain vigilant for the clinical signs in their dog and contact their vet immediately if they suspect something is wrong.

Written by: Hannah