Lungworm Advice | Companion Care
Lungworm - Web header - September 2019

Lungworm And Your Dog

Lungworm is a nasty condition that can be fatal.

Lungworm is a parasite that can be deadly to dogs if ingested. It uses multiple animals to help complete its lifecycle, with dogs and foxes as the primary hosts, and slugs, snails and even frogs as the intermediate hosts.

Read more about common dog parasites

More about lungworm

Lungworms are short worms, only reaching 2.5cm in length as adults, which live within the chambers of the heart, and in the artery that connects the heart to the lungs. Despite their main home being in the heart, these worms are called lungworms as they cause mainly lung-related signs such as coughing.

Unlike some other worm species you won’t see an adult lungworm, as the adults only live within dogs and foxes. Canine lungworm, also known as Angiostrongylus vasorum, reproduce by producing eggs which hatch into larvae. These larvae are coughed up from the lungs, swallowed, and passed out in faeces. Once in the faeces, larvae are picked up by slugs and snails, and mature until they are old enough to be infective to dogs and foxes.

Prevalence in our UK fox population has grown from 7% to 18%, meaning that it would be practically impossible to eradicate lungworm from the wildlife population. With slugs and snails as another reservoir of infection, protecting our dogs with lungworm preventative treatments is the only way to ensure they are not exposed to infection.

Dogs can get lungworm by eating infective lungworm larvae. These can be found in the slimy coating of slugs and snails there are 20000 slugs and snails in the average UK garden!

These larvae can survive for a short time off hosts such as slugs and snails, so larvae can also be found on toys and in water bowls where slug or snail contamination might not be obvious.

Don’t forget, dogs do not have to eat the actual snail or slug to get infected. Although habitual slug and snail eaters are more at risk, any dog with access to slug and snail environments may come into contact with lungworm larvae.

The most common symptoms of lungworm infection are:

  • Coughing
  • Changes in breathing or struggling to breathe
  • Going off food
  • Upset tummy with vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Loss of weight
  • Tiredness and depression
  • Unexplained or excessive bruising
  • Pale gums
  • Bleeding

Sadly, dogs with severe lungworm infections can become very ill in fact, 9% of infected dogs will die.

If your dog is experiencing any of these signs you should make an appointment with your local Companion Care as soon as possible.

Thankfully, although you can’t stop your dog being exposed to lungworms, there are lots of options for preventing an infestation developing.

  • Regular worming treatments. Worming treatments usually come in the form of tablets or spot-ons, and may manage a range of parasites including lungworms. The best parasite protocol for your dog will depend on you, your dog, your lifestyle and even the season, and your vet can help you decide which regime works best for you. However you choose to manage worms in your dog, make sure to speak to a vet about the best anti-parasitic on offer, as many over the counter treatments have poor efficacy.
  • Picking up your dog’s faeces quickly. This will help prevent the spread of lungworm.
  • Removing toys and bowls from the garden overnight so they are not exposed to slugs and snails.
  • Changing the water in water bowls frequently.

If you think your dog might have a lungworm infection, the best thing to do is to go to your vet. They can do a full physical examination, and check your dog over from nose to tail!

Thankfully there is a simple blood test for lungworm, so your vet can assess the risk of your dog being infected. If there is a risk your dog may have lungworm, your vet will prescribe a worming treatment suitable for your pet, which should eliminate the worms, as well as providing any other treatment that might be necessary if your dog is showing more serious signs. They can also help you plan a worm prevention plan going forward too, to make sure your dog stays protected.

Lungworm cannot be transmitted to humans.