Dogs love nothing more than truffling around in the garden or woods, digging up dirt and chasing sticks. And they hate nothing more than the ensuing bathtime afterwards.

However, veterinary experts have issued a warning to all dog owners to protect their pooch against a UK-wide rise in potentially fatal lungworm infections.

A recent poll found that while 84 per cent of dog owners could identify the symptoms of the parasite, which range from dogs losing their appetite for frozen dog food to seizures and fitting, many others couldn't.

And according to dog expert and TV veterinarian Luke Gamble, the problem has become more common in recent years.

"There are lots of different types of lungworm, but we're talking about a specific one - Angiostrongylus vasorum. The difference between this lungworm and other lungworms is that this one is potentially fatal - it can kill dogs."

But as the parasite is most commonly spread by slugs and snails, there are some precautions dog owners can take to protect their pooch from the pest.

"Picking up garden toys that have been left out overnight is a really good idea," the expert said. "We're not talking about the really big slugs, often it's the tiny little ones, the ones the size of a five pence piece, that they can accidentally ingest.

Another precaution owners can make is regularly changing water bowls that may have been left outside overnight while portioning out their premium dog food.

But most of all, owners need to be aware of the problem, and capable of spotting the symptoms of possible infection.

"Be aware about it - it's on the increase, and we can do something about it and prevent it with a spot-on from the vet. The website www.lungworm.org.uk has got some great stuff on there if people are interested and want to know about it."

Written by: Hannah