Lungworm Infection

Climate change in the UK has caused the weather to become warmer and wetter. This change is good news for some parasites, such as ticks, fleas, and lungworm but bad news for us and our pets. Lungworm is near worldwide distribution and has spread accross much of the UK including the Midlands. Greater movement of pets in general (within the country and abroad) is another factor that has sparked the increase of this disease. You can check this interactive map to see how Nottingham is affected:

If you are a member of our Pet Care Plan then you need not worry- we cover lungworm prevention in our plan.

Can cats get lungworm?

Yes, they can but it is not the same lungworm that affects dogs, they have their own version called Aelurostrongylus abstrusus. It is rarely fatal but can cause breathing difficulties and coughing.

What is lungworm?

The Angiostrongylus Vasorum parasite, commonly referred to as lungworm, affects the lung tissue of dogs. Once infected, adult lungworms reside in their hearts and in the main blood vessels in the lungs, and as a result can cause a plethora of health issues, ranging from mild to fatal.

Ordinary slugs and snails found in your garden can carry the lungworm parasite. During the spring, summer and early autumn months when the weather is wet, dogs are prone to eating or interacting with slugs and snails, despite the foul-tasting substances that they release as a defense mechanism. Additionally, any contact with the slime trail that can be found on toys that are left out in the garden or outdoor food and water bowls, can also increase the risk of infection. Lungworm infections cannot be passed from dogs to dogs, but only through ingestion or contact with slug and snail hosts. Once a dog is infected, they pass the lungworm larvae in their faeces, and any slugs and snails that come into contact with the faeces will become infected with the parasite and so the cycle and spread of infection continues.

Those that are at a high risk of contracting lungworm are dogs that have a known tendency for eating slugs and snails and playful, inquisitive dogs under the age of three. However all dogs of all breeds and ages are vulnerable to the disease as it is pretty much impossible to avoid slugs and snails in the UK.

Effects of lungworm

After infection, lungworm usually causes progressively worsening signs of cardiac and respiratory disease, such as coughing (often during exercise); as well as causing bleeds (haemorrhages) in lungs, liver, intestine, eyes, and spinal cord, but also pretty much anywhere in the body. If left untreated, it can be fatal in severe cases.

It can be difficult to diagnose a lungworm infection because the symptoms are varied. They can include one or more of the following- diarrhoea, weight loss, lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, stomach and back pain, breathing difficulties, coughing, persistent bleeding or poor blood clotting, and general sickness. Slight changes in your dog’s behaviour can be a sign of an infection, for example tiring easily and depression. It is a chronic disease that lasts months and even years, but can occasionally result in sudden deaths.

Diagnosis of a lungworm infection

An absolute diagnosis of lungworm involves a variety of diagnostic methods, such as blood samples for DNA analysis, microscopic examination of stool samples for eggs and larvae, chest X-rays and bronchoscopy.

Interestingly, not finding worms doesn’t mean your dog isn’t infected. Diagnosing lungworm infection is often based on history, compatible clinical signs and response to treatment.

What do I do if I think my dog has a lungworm infection?

If you feel that your dog has contracted lungworm, call your vet. Treatments for lungworm are easy to administer and available from your vet. Once a proper diagnosis is made and treatment is undertaken, most dogs are able to make a complete recovery. However, it is imperative to take action as early as possible, as advanced levels of infection can lead to significant permanent damage.

As the old adage says: prevention is better than cure!

If you are a member of our Pet Care Plan then you need not worry- we cover lungworm prevention in our plan.

Preventative treatment can be provided by your vet to prevent your dog from picking up lungworm and other types of parasitic fleas and worms.

To reduce contact with slugs and snails feeding outside should be avoided as much as possible when the weather is damp and avoid leaving your dog’s toys and bowls outside overnight.

If you have any concerns about lungworm our nursing team will be happy to help- call 0115 922 4855 to be lungworm aware.