Your standard over-the-counter dog worming treatment targets intestinal worms (such as roundworm and tapeworm) but is ineffective against lungworm – a potentially life-threatening disease in dogs. Adult lungworms live in the heart and blood vessels of the lungs of dogs and can cause serious health issues, so effective preventative treatment is essential.
Find out more about the disease and how lungworm treatment can protect your dog from this nasty parasite.
What is lungworm?
The official name for lungworm is Angiostrongylus vasorum; it’s a type of parasitic worm which affects the heart and blood vessels of the lungs of animals such as dogs, badgers and foxes. Lungworm infections can be fatal but thankfully lungworm treatment for dogs is available from your vet and you should find it useful to be aware of the risks.
Lungworm is considered an ‘emerging disease’ in the UK which means it is becoming more common. Whereas it used to only appear in certain parts of south England, it is now found throughout much of the UK, especially in dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors. Find out if your neighbourhood has lungworm.
How do dogs catch lungworm?
Dogs (and foxes) can contract the lungworm parasite by eating larvae found in infected slugs, snails and frogs. The larvae then burrow their way into the body finding their way to the heart and blood vessels of the lungs where they develop into adult lungworms. Lungworm, unlike many other diseases, is not passed directly from dog to dog but it is spread to the environment in the faeces of an infected animal.
Your curious pooch may be unlucky enough to pick up infected molluscs as he rummages through undergrowth or comes across slugs and snails in your garden. Even if slugs aren’t to his taste, your dog could accidentally ingest this parasitic worm when eating grass or drinking from puddles and outdoor water bowls.
Lungworm larvae can also be found in molluscs’ slime trails meaning your dog is at risk if he crosses their path.
Not all slugs and snails are infected but it is worth being cautious and asking your vet about the most common parasites in your region.
What are the signs of a lungworm infection in dogs?
It can be difficult to tell if your dog has lungworm as some symptoms, such as weight loss and a cough, can be easily confused with other conditions.
Some possible signs to look out for in infected dogs include:
- breathing difficulties and coughing, especially bringing up blood
- poor appetite and weight loss
- changes in behaviour and lethargy
- poor blood clotting/persistent bleeding e.g. blood in urine, vomiting blood and blood spots on the gums
Lungworm is a chronic disease, which can last for months and even years and it can occasionally cause sudden death. If you spot any of the above signs, take your dog to the vet immediately.
How is lungworm diagnosed in dogs?
If you’re worried your dog may have lungworm, vets can carry out in-practice tests that give you quick results. The lungworm parasite often can’t be detected until after four to eight weeks following infection, this is called the pre-patent period. Sometimes lungworm remains undetected for long periods.
Vets use several methods to diagnose lungworm using poo samples, lung fluid, blood tests and X-rays. They may refer to them in the following terms:
- Baermann technique – uses poo samples to search for lungworm larvae
- ELISA blood test – vets will examine blood samples to search for antigens produced by the lungworm parasite
- Broncho-alveolar lavage – tests lung fluid samples for lungworm larvae
Often your vet will use a combination of these tests to determine whether or not your dog is infected. This is because the accuracy of a single test may not be completely reliable depending on the type of sample and the stage of infection. Your vet may decide it’s safer to cover all bases in order to diagnose or exclude the presence of lungworm in your dog.
What does lungworm treatment look like?
The level of treatment for a lungworm infection will depend on the stage of the infection. The earlier treatment is administered the quicker your dog is likely to recover. The difficulty is dogs often don’t show obvious signs of lungworm until the infection has developed.
Lungworm requires special monthly medication to both treat and prevent infection, unlike regular dog wormers, which are often given every three months. Ask your vet to recommend a regular lungworm preventative alongside your usual anti-parasite prevention treatments.
If left untreated, lungworm can be fatal but, once diagnosed and treated, many dogs will make a full recovery. If you are concerned about your dog’s symptoms, visit your vet as soon as possible.
How can I prevent lungworm in the first place?
The best way to avoid lungworm is to make a monthly preventative treatment part of your dog’s regular anti-parasite routine, alongside worming and flea treatments. Speak to your vet about the most effective lungworm treatments available.
Your vet should be able to tell you how many cases of lungworm they see in your area and suggest an appropriate plan if your dog is at high risk.
When you’re out and about with your pooch, always keep an eye out for slugs and snails and stop them from swallowing them or licking them or the area they’ve been in.
Remember, lungworm infections can reoccur even after treatment, so continuous prevention is essential to safeguard your dog’s health.