THE owners of their one-year-old dog have issued an urgent warning to dog owners across the region after an unexplained illness left their beloved Roker fighting for his life.

Gareth and Joanne Devine from Hurworth near Darlington, said they suffered 18 'horrendous' days after their miniature schnauzer contracted a mystery illness, which left him with dehydration, bloody diarrhoea, hypovolaemia and sepsis.

Mr Devine, who said their pet was seen by four different vets from different practices, claimed 'no-one realised' the severity of his condition until it deteriorated further over an 11-day period.

The Northern Echo:

He said: "We were so shocked that we could lose Roker to something so common-place and seemingly benign as sickness and diarrhoea – he’d become so poorly we were prepared for the worst."

The couple were referred to a veterinary group, which claimed it had treated a spate of dogs affected by the unexplained disease.

Nicki Redd, of Wear Referrals in Bradbury, Stockton, said the practice had seen an increased number of cases of severe haemorrhagic gastroenteritis over the past few months.

She said: "Our internal medicine service has seen an increased number of cases of severe haemorrhagic gastroenteritis this autumn and one such case was Roker.

“When he arrived with us, he was already in shock as a result of hypovolaemia and sepsis – bloody diarrhoea was pouring out, he was dehydrated and was breathing heavily."

An ultrasound scan of his abdomen revealed the bowel wall was severely ulcerated, while vets said gas had travelled from his bowel to the lymph nodes and liver.

The Northern Echo:

She said: “Roker received a plasma transfusion, along with intravenous antibiotics and analgesia, as well as fluid resuscitation and supportive medication for ulceration and nausea – within 48 hours he was eating again.

"A second scan documented his bowel wall was recovering and he was finally discharged from the hospital four days after admission.

“He is continuing to improve and is nearly back to normal but he could very easily have died from this condition, as he was at high risk of bowel perforation.”

As a result, Ms Redd issued an urgent warning to dog owners across the North-East to remain vigilant for warning signs.

She said: "All our cases so far have recovered but they have required intensive management. A number of these cases had been treated for vomiting and or diarrhoea prior to referral to us – they’d appeared to show an initial improvement at first, but then rapidly deteriorated.

"The cause of the outbreak has not been identified even though we’ve submitted faecal samples from all our cases."

She said it was not yet clear whether the outbreak was confined to the North-East or whether other regions were experiencing something similar.

She added: “That’s why we’re urging all dog owners to be on their guard and to act swiftly if their pet has a prolonged bout of sickness and diarrhoea.”

Mr Devine said: "We don’t want anyone to go through the awful roller coaster experience that we did – or worse.

“That’s why we want to warn other dog owners to be aware of this very serious outbreak in the area.

“Ours had a happy ending, Roker is back home now and improving all the time but we know we could so easily have lost him.”