Lungworm

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Lungoworm is also known as "French heartworm" and by its latin name "Angiostrongylus vasorum" and is a potentially serious and life threatening parasite in dogs and foxes, and is carried by slugs and snails. It can cause very serious disease, leading to death. Until recently there were no licensed products in the UK to treat or prevent this worm. Thankfully, there are now products that claim to treat this parasite, and they may offer protection before the disease strikes.

Animals who fall ill due to lungworm are not all known slug or snail eaters. It seems likely that there are other routes to infection, such as eating grass or drinking contaminated water.

How could my dog get infected?

Many infected dogs show no signs of illness. Dogs that are unwell show a wide range of symptoms: breathing problems, coughing, bleeding excessively from cuts or bleeding internally with no signs of trauma, anaemia and loss of condition. Other animals may show neurological changes including seizures. If your dog is unwell in any way make an appointment to see your vet.

How do I know if my dog's infected?

The adult worms spend most of their lives in the blood vessels close to the heart. However, when the eggs laid by the adults hatch, the immature worms (larvae) force their way through the walls of the blood vessels and into the lungs. The dog then coughs up the larvae and swallows them. The larvae pass into the faeces which is in turn eaten by slugs and snails (which love dog poo!). The larvae develop in their new host until this is eaten by a dog. Slugs and snails often crawl into dog's food bowls or onto toys if these are left outside. Dogs also eat these garden pests when drinking from outdoor water sources and eating grass. Once back in the dog the young worms make their way back through the dog's body to the blood vessels.

What is the treatment for lungworm?

The aims of treatment are to eliminate the lungworm infection and also to manage the clinical signs. There are a number of drugs that can be used to eliminate the worms but infected dogs should be monitored carefully when receiving treatment as the sudden killing of the worms could result in a severe allergic reaction.

If your dog has severe signs (particularly affecting the brain or signs of heart failure) your vet will want to keep your pet in the hospital for specialised care.

How can I prevent my dog from getting lungworm?

Most dogs are infected by contact with slugs or snails (and usually from eating these) - so if you can reduce your dog's exposure to these that will reduce the risk.

Regular treatment of your dog with a product that can kill the worms can help to protect them against infection. The standard worming treatment that you give your pet every 3 months or so may not protect them from lungworm infections. You will need to get additional treatment from your vet and this may be given in the form of a monthly spot-on (at the back of the neck) which will protect against lungworms and treats your dog for other common parasites such as fleas, worms, and mites. Contact your own vet for further advice on the risks to your dog and how to manage them.

At the Ardmore Veterinary Group we aim to provide the highest standard of professional veterinary care. If you find any of the information displayed incorrect please do not hesitate to call us. We are here to listen and assist in any way we can.

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