What is lungworm?
Lungworm is a type of parasitic worm — called Angiostrongylus Vasorum — which can affect dogs, foxes and badgers. It lives in the heart and blood vessels that supply the lungs.
It is described as an “emerging” disease, which simply means it’s gradually becoming more common. Traditionally, lungworm only appeared in certain “hot spots” in the south of England, but in recent years it has been identified in dogs in most of the UK.
It’s unclear exactly what’s causing lungworm to spread — and that of other parasites such as ticks — but increased movement of pets around the country, as well as increasing contact between wildlife and the urban environment, is thought to have played a part.
Lungworm can be serious, potentially even fatal, if left untreated. If you’re worried it may be causing your pet to be sick contact your vet as soon as possible or, out of hours, find your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or Vets Now 24/7 hospital.
How big a problem is lungworm?
Unlike many other diseases, lungworm is not passed from dog to dog. The worm grows and develops in slugs and snails, and it is from eating these that dogs become infected.
Infection can, in the most extreme cases, cause death, so it’s potentially very serious.
Not every snail or slug carries the worm, and it’s much more common in southern parts of England than the rest of the UK. However, if your pet regularly eats snails or slugs, they are at risk.
It is advisable to ask your vet about the most common parasites in your area.
How is lungworm diagnosed?
Diagnosing lungworm can be difficult as it relies on finding evidence of worms in either the windpipe or faeces. To complicate matters, not finding the worms does not necessarily mean your dog is not infected.
Your vet is likely to carry out a number of diagnostic tests, such as taking blood and stool samples to see if any eggs or larvae are present. They may also conduct a chest x-ray or a bronchoscopy (camera down the windpipe).
How can I prevent or treat lungworm?
Typically, lungworm does not require invasive or costly treatment if caught early. Killing the worm is relatively straightforward, and should only require a change in your regular parasite routine. This might be as simple as changing from one product to another. However, if the symptoms are advanced or the level of infection is severe there is a greater likelihood of permanent damage.
We would always recommend adding treatment for lungworm into your regular worming routine. Talk to your vet about lungworm treatment and prevention from lungworm and, if you’re unsure how ‘at risk’ your dog might be, seek advice from your vet. They’ll know how common the problem is in your area and put in place the most appropriate plan for you and your pet.