Lungworm has been reported in my area – what should I do?
Lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is every dog owner’s nightmare as it causes serious health problems and can even be fatal to dogs. Lungworm was once quite rare in the UK, however in recent years the parasite has spread and is now endemic in many parts of the country. This makes it particularly important that dog owners are aware of the problem and take steps to protect their pets.
What is lungworm and why is it such a risk?
Lungworm is a potentially fatal parasite that you really don’t want your dog to become infected by. Lungworm larvae are carried by slugs and snails and dogs can become infected by eating these common garden pests – accidentally or deliberately, e.g. when rummaging in the undergrowth, eating grass or drinking from puddles – or potentially even by ingesting their slime.1 Frogs can also carry the larvae, posing an additional risk to dogs.
Ingested lungworm larvae burrow through the dog’s gut wall and make their way towards the heart, where they develop into adult worms and reproduce. Lungworm eggs are carried in the bloodstream to the lungs, where they hatch into new larvae. These larvae are coughed up by the dog, swallowed and then pass out in the dog’s poo, ready to infect more slugs and snails to continue the cycle. Lungworm is more common in younger dogs though any age can be affected, and it can be fatal in dogs of any age.
Lungworm can cause a number of symptoms, including breathing problems (for example a cough), blood clotting issues, behavioural changes and general sickness. Dogs can show a combination of signs, or even no signs at all in the early stages. These can all easily be confused with other illnesses, so it’s important to speak to your vet if you are concerned. If left untreated, lungworm can be fatal.
“When I found out Darcy had lungworm I was in complete shock, my whole world collapsed. He missed out on so much, all because he wasn’t covered for lungworm. Unfortunately, I didn’t know at the time but lungworm is a very real risk and it really is here.” Kate – owner of Darcy, who sadly passed away following infection with lungworm.
How do I know lungworm is in my area?
Lungworm has been spreading to new areas of the UK over the past few years. Lungworm larvae are passed in the poo of infected dogs, if owners travel with an infected dog, lungworm can spread to new areas. Foxes can also become infected and are capable of roaming up to 50km in a single night, spreading the parasite far and wide. Research has shown that the percentage of foxes in the UK that are infected has more than doubled in the last ten years to 18% - and the research showed that this could be as high as 50% in the South-East.2
According to the Royal Veterinary College, one in five veterinary practices in the UK has reported at least one clinical case of lungworm in a dog.3 Check whether lungworm has been reported in your area using this online lungworm locator. But remember, lungworm continues to spread, so even if lungworm has not yet been reported near you, your dog could still be at risk.
What can I do to protect my dog from lungworm?
“I would hate for another dog or owners to go through what we’ve had to go through…it is a threat, unfortunately, and you really need to get your dogs covered.” Ruth – owner of Angus, an otherwise happy, healthy dog who sadly passed away following lungworm infection.
The good news is that lungworm is preventable with a monthly worming protocol from your vet. It’s important to know that not all wormers are effective against this parasite though, so speak to your vet who can advise you further. Lungworm prevention must be monthly; three monthly worming (usually recommended for round and tapeworms) will not be effective against this parasite.
If you suspect your dog may already be infected, book an appointment with your vet immediately. Thankfully, provided it is caught early enough, treatment for lungworm is available and most dogs will make a full recovery. However prevention is better than cure, so speak to your vet about a monthly prevention plan to protect your dog against lungworm.
For further information on treatment and prevention of lungworm, see our guide to lungworm treatment and prevention.
1 Conboy G et al., Parasitol Res (2017), 116: S41-S54
2 Taylor et al., (2015),142 (9); 1190-5
3 Kirk et al., Vet Record (2014), 175, 118