Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

Lungworm has been a common problem in South England and South Wales for some time now, however the number of cases diagnosed in Northern England and in Scotland has risen recently so now dog owners all over the UK should be Lungworm aware.

The Lungworm ‘Angiostrongylus Vasorum’ is a parasite affecting dogs. The Lungworm larval stage is carried by slugs and snails and dogs can become infected by eating them, either by eating them deliberately or accidentally when drinking from outside puddles, or from drinking water or eating food from bowls that are left outside or playing with toys that have been left outside, or rummaging through the undergrowth. Slugs and snails do thrive in damp, wet conditions, so autumn can be a high risk time of year for your dog encountering these garden pests.

The lungworm larvae grow inside the dog host and form into adult lungworms, the adult worm lives in the heart and within the major blood vessels to the lungs, this is when symptoms can begin, after about 28 days the adult worms start to produce their own larvae and then serious health problems can ensue. Clinical symptoms noted include heart problems, prolonged bleeding, coughing and /or a high temperature. In some mild cases infection can remain unnoticed however sadly an infection can often be fatal if not diagnosed and treated correctly and promptly.

Signs of Lungworm infection include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Coughing
  • Tiring easily or lethargy
  • Excessive prolonged and unexpected bleeding
  • Pale membranes
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Weight loss and poor appetite
  • Seizuring and death

The difficulty is that many dogs infected with the lungworm often do not show any symptoms until the disease is quite far advanced. By this point treatment is much more difficult and many dogs require hospitalisation and often intensive care.  Disease can spread within dog communities as infected dogs can pass the larvae in their dog waste. This waste can infect more slugs and snails who are attracted to dog waste and so the disease can spread. Also foxes can carry and spread the lungworm infection through infected faeces.

The good news is that lungworm can be treated. There are Spot On and also oral tablet treatments for preventative care and treatment of lungworm. If you think your dog may be at risk please contact your vet and they can advise you on the best treatment for your individual dog. Remember- with lungworm infestation prevention is much, much better than cure.  If you are concerned about lungworm or if your dog becomes unwell with these symptoms, do please contact us for good professional advice and an appointment for a full clinical examination. Also do remember to clean up after your dog, both in your own garden and in public areas, and avoid outside food and water bowls and clean any outside bowls and toys regularly.