HAMPSHIRE dog owners are being urged to wash their animals after taking them for a walk in a bid to protect their pets from a deadly disease.

Experts believe the mystery illness is similar to Alabama Rot and has claimed the lives of a number of dogs in the New Forest.

Earlier this month, Sarah Thairs' Patterdale fox terrier, Tegan, succumbed to the toxin after they visited the ancient woodland and heath.

The same condition has been linked to the deaths of 12 dogs in the New Forest since December 2012.

Now one pet owner Steve Smith, a forester, from Worcester, who lost both of his pets Polly and Jess, says not washing his animals after taking them for a walk cost them their lives.

His third dog, Judy, survived after being cleaned.

He is reported as saying: “I'm convinced the link is E.coli. Polly and Jess were not washed, they groomed themselves, licked their coats and ingested the mud and soil.

“Judy also became ill but did not get kidney failure. I believe giving her a bath saved her life.”

He said that experts in the US then told him that the case “mimicked” Alabama Rot.

Although investigations are continuing, it is not confirmed that E-Coli is causing the disease in Britain.