Veterinarians warn that a potentially deadly brain parasite, currently piggybacking off an invasive snail species, poses as much risk to dogs as it does to humans.
The parasite-infested Apple Snail, an invasive species native to South America, has been creeping up the desert southwest and the eastern seaboard, with state wildlife authorities now sounding the alarm in North Carolina.
The snails are known to be vectors for rat lungworm — which can endanger dogs with symptoms that start with hind-leg weakness, followed by hind-leg paralysis, and can progress up the canine body, ultimately to brain damage.
A veterinarian in Hawaii, where Apple Snails have been a recurring problem, said puppies are at particular risk.
‘The dogs at that age, around six to nine weeks, are curious,’ the vet noted. ‘They put anything in their mouths.’
Pet owners in the southern US are on notice about infected Apple Snails. When your dog rummages through undergrowth, drinks from puddles, eats grass or even just sniffs around outside, it can be in danger of being infected by the rat lungworm that Apple Snails can carry
North Carolina wildlife authorities said that the Apple Snail’s egg masses can be destroyed by ‘crushing and scraping them off into the water’ using any nearby implement such as a stick, a rock or a boat paddle. State officials urged citizens should make sure the eggs sink
On Monday, North Carolina warned residents that invasive snail species — which can be fatal to humans and devastating to river life — has been positively identified along the state’s Lumber River in the state’s south-central region.
The Apple Snail, which came to the US as a popular aquarium item, has been previously tracked by parks and wildlife managers in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, California, Arizona, and other southern states.
Authorities in North Carolina are urging residents to freeze or crush the snails but not to handle them or their bright pink masses of eggs, which are filled with toxins that can cause skin and eye rashes.
While the Apple Snail has already invaded Europe, Asia and other US states, like Hawaii, this week’s sightings are the first ever recorded in North Carolina.
It joins the toxic, mucus-covered Hammerhead worm on the list of slimy invasives that have spread up the US eastern seaboard in recent years.
Hilo, Hawaii-based veterinarian Dr. Alfred Mina told Honolulu Civil Beat that he sees several rat lungworm cases a month, which can be treated if caught early.
Veterinarians warn that a potentially deadly brain parasite, currently piggy-backing off an invasive species of snail, poses as much risk to dogs as it does to humans. According to one vet in Hawaii, which these Apple Snails have plagued, puppies are at particular risk
‘We put them on corticosteroids, then an antibiotic, then a de-wormer and pain medication,’ Mina told the site.
‘The majority bounce back when caught early. There are few cases that take longer to recover if they presented when it was already painful and they barely could walk.’
According to Dr. Mina, a common heartworm medication for dogs, like moxidectin or Pro-Heart, can effectively prevent or treat rat lungworm.
Sometimes, however, pet owners and veterinarians can misidentify a rat lungworm infection for joint pain or inflammation, leading to ineffective treatments that give the parasite more time to spread.
Erin Rupert, the owner of a French bulldog in Hawaii, described her dog’s case as ‘terrifying.’
‘Constant stress. No one knew whether he was going to walk again,’ Rupert told local station news KHON2.
‘Did x-rays, didn’t find anything […] Put him on pain meds. They upped the dose,’ Rupert recalled of their visits from vet to vet. ‘He wasn’t able to walk. That’s when we realized it was really bad.’
North Carolina wildlife authorities warned residents Monday that an invasive snail species — which can be fatal to humans and devastating to river life — has been positively ID’ed along the state’s Lumber River. The Apple Snail is known to carry rat lungworm, which can kill humans
Even casual contact can be risky, as wildlife authorities warned that a toxin found in the snail’s bright pink masses of eggs can cause skin and eye rashes if touched. The state is asking that citizens help track and kill Apple Snails using NC’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Reporting Tool
The US Geological Survey advises that pet owners and anyone else traveling outdoors should be on the lookout for Apple Snails in freshwater lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and ditches.
In addition to rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis), Apple Snails are known to be carriers of harmful parasites like blood flukes (Schistosoma spp.) and intestinal flukes (Echinostoma ilocanum)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that a blood fluke infection, or schistosomiasis, ‘can persist for years’ if not properly treated.
If transmitted from snail to human, the parasite can cause severe abdominal pain, an enlarged liver, blood in the stool or urine, and difficulty urinating.
READ MORE: Murder hornet ‘relative’ is invading the US
The yellow-legged hornet, native to South Asia, was identified in Georgia, where officials are urging residents to look for the invasive species that could ‘potentially threaten’ honey production, native species, farms and human lives.
But beyond these threats to human health, North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) also warned that the Apple Snail posed risks to local farming and native habitats.
‘Their grazing habits can cause damage to crops such as rice, as well as to wild native plants used by many aquatic species,’ according to the commission’s posting to its aquatic nuisance species page.
‘They have even been observed feeding on amphibian eggs,’ wildlife authorities said
Wildlife experts in Hawaii have also warned that, if left unchecked, the Apple Snail can decimate local agricultural economies.
‘In the Philippines, they became the top pest in rice fields,’ Hawaii’s Invasive Species Council reported, ‘there has been 100-percent crop loss in heavily infested areas.’
Wildlife managers in North Carolina hope that the state’s residents will aid in expelling the invasive species.
Apple Snails are typically seen in rounded, yellowish to dark brown shells.
While they can grow to the size of an apple, the creatures are typically closer to the size of a golf ball.
Authorities said that if residents see a suspected Apple Snail or a mass of vividly pink eggs, the first step is to photograph and record the location in a submission to NCWRC’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Reporting Tool.
‘After documenting the location, egg masses can be destroyed [by] crushing and scraping them off into the water,’ the state’s wildlife authorities said, ‘with any implement such as a stick or a boat paddle.’
NCWRC’s experts also advise ‘making sure the eggs sink,’ while avoiding contact with bare skin to avoid possible rashes from the eggs’ toxins.
‘Adult snails,’ they said, ‘can be destroyed by crushing or freezing.’