Lungworm in dogs

Once a rare occurrence in the UK, lungworm is becoming ever more present in certain areas. Find out how to protect your dog from this potentially fatal parasite.

What is lungworm?

Lungworm is a type of parasitic worm that can infect dogs. Unlike other intestinal worms such as tapeworm and roundworm, adult lungworm live in the heart and blood vessels of the lungs, causing fatal consequences if left untreated.

Lungworm was once rare in the UK, but has now spread to new areas, so it’s increasingly important to know how to prevent and treat it.

How do dogs catch lungworm?

Lungworm larvae live in snails and slugs, as well as the waste from infected dogs or foxes (which is where the slugs and snails pick it up from).

When these are eaten, either intentionally or accidentally, the lungworm larvae are also ingested into the dog’s system. The larvae can also be picked up from snail and slug slime, so any dog toys or bowls left outside can pose a risk. Frogs can also become a host for the larvae.

Once a dog becomes infected, the larvae mature and move around the body, eventually ending up in and around the lungs. The adult lungworm then lay eggs which mature into more larvae which is subsequently coughed up, swallowed and exit the body via the dog’s waste, thus starting the cycle again.

This cycle of infection means that lungworm can easily spread within dog communities, so prevention is key.

The effects of lungworm

Lungworm can cause cardiac and respiratory diseases and can be fatal in severe cases. Many dogs won’t show signs of lungworm for some time, causing it to go undiagnosed in many cases.

Symptoms of lungworm include:

  • excessive bleeding
  • unexplained or excessive bruising
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • loss of appetite
  • vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • weight loss
  • tiredness and depression
  • pale gums
  • seizures.

How to treat lungworm

If you think your dog has contracted lungworm, call your local vet straight away for immediate treatment.

Diagnosing lungworm can be tricky; your vet will carry out a number of diagnostic tests, such as taking blood and waste samples to see if any eggs or larvae are present. They may also conduct a chest x-ray or insert a tiny camera into your dog’s windpipe to find evidence of the parasite.

These tests will help your vet decide which course of treatment best suits the needs of your dog. Occasionally, lungworm can be killed off by changing your parasite prevention routine.

However, if there are signs of bleeding, blood transfusions and a stay in an intensive care unit may be required. There could also be a chance of permanent damage, so prevention is essential.

How to prevent lungworm

Prevention is better than treatment. Using effective lungworm prevention as part of your ongoing parasite control is the best way to protect your dog. Speak to your vet about the best option to suit their needs and for more information about high-risk areas.

If you live in an ‘at-risk’ area of the UK, be extra-vigilant when out walking with your dog to stop them from eating slugs, snails and faeces. Always remember to pick up after your own dog and wash any toys and bowls that have been outside to reduce the risk of infection.

Can humans get lungworm?

Lungworm hasn’t been known to infect humans. However, there are other types of worms – tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms and roundworms – that can be transmitted to humans.

That’s why regular worming treatment is essential to keep you, your dog and your family protected.

Speak to your vet for advice on protecting your dog from lungworm.

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