DOG owners are being warned to stay vigilant when walking their four-legged friends after a mystery disease has killed 13 animals in recent months.
Owners who take their canines to walk in woodland should pay particular attention to their pet developing lesions on its legs, paws or face after the spate of cases in southern England.
The Forestry Commission says any owners whose dogs appear to develop these symptoms should take their animals to a vet immediately and pay particular attention to anything animals might pick up, chew or eat in a wooded area.
The outbreak of the deadly but so far mysterious illness has prompted comparisons with Alabama Rot, a disease which affected greyhounds in the 1980s and was also identifiable by the appearance of sores on the legs.
The majority of cases identified so far have occurred in the New Forest and the borough has several patches of old woodland and newer man-made plantations which are popular venues for dog walkers.
Animals which have contracted the lesions have died after suffering from kidney failure.
The source of the deadly condition is still unknown, although the Environment Agency has ruled out chemical contamination of water supplies as an explanation for the disease.
Experts have said the lesions appear very similar to those associated with Alabama rot, which is thought to be caused by a toxin made by E.coli bacteria.
Although cases of the disease have been reported as far afield as Cornwall, Worcestershire and County Durham, the North West so far appears to have escaped unscathed but owners are still being warned to visit a vet if they have any concerns.
Steve Gilmore, who owns a practice in Standish, said: “Nobody should panic but if a dog has any kind of strange skin infection or lesions which doesn’t go away within a day or so they should seek veterinary attention.
“There has been a smattering of cases across the country which starts to look a bit suspicious and makes you wonder what the connection is between these different areas.
“None of my vets have seen any cases yet but we will certainly be keeping an eye on the situation.”