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UK vets warn dog owners to be vigilant about lungworm

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Vets are encouraging dog owners to take the threat of lungworm seriously and to take steps to protect their dogs against this potentially fatal parasite.
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Once considered rare in the UK, the lungworm parasite (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is spreading throughout the country. Research by the Royal Veterinary College found that one in five vet practices in the UK have reported at least one clinical case of lungworm in a dog.1 The spread of this potentially deadly parasite has driven vets to speak out to warn dog owners about the dangers of lungworm.

Dr Simon Hayes, Veterinary Surgeon at Village Vet, North London, said of the lungworm threat:

I see it as the duty of the veterinary profession to advise all dog owners whose dogs may be at risk – which is pretty much every dog – that lungworm is a preventable disease and potentially fatal if left untreated.

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lungworm is a preventable disease and potentially fatal if left untreated

Dr Hayes is not alone – vets are becoming increasingly concerned as more cases of this parasite are detected up and down the country.

Lungworm is continuing to spread at an alarming rate in the UK,

said Luke Gamble, BVSc MRCVS and Chief Executive of the charity Worldwide Veterinary Service.

And while dog owners are becoming more aware of the parasite, there is still a real lack of understanding as to the warning signs associated with the condition and that monthly prevention is easy to achieve.

Lungworm is contracted when your dog accidentally or deliberately ingests slugs or snails (or potentially even their slime2) whilst rummaging through undergrowth, eating grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking them up from their toys. All very normal dog behaviours so there’s not much you can do to stop dogs doing these things! Frogs can also carry the larvae, posing an additional risk to dogs. 

The signs of lungworm infection can easily be confused with other illnesses and symptoms can include: coughing, fatigue, clotting problems (such as excessive bleeding from minor wounds, nose bleeds, internal bleeding), weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea and behaviour changes, including lethargy, depression and even seizures.

If your dog is showing any of these signs, or if you suspect your dog might have a lungworm infection, it’s important to take her to the vet immediately. Luckily, if the infection is caught early enough there are treatments available and in most cases the dog will make a full recovery.

The best way to protect your dog, however, is to speak to your vet about a monthly prevention programme, something Dr Hayes is keen to emphasise:

Having seen multiple cases of lungworm, some fatal, I feel strongly that UK dogs should be protected against the parasite to prevent unnecessary deaths. It is the duty of the veterinary profession to promote responsible pet ownership and to be at the forefront of knowledge on the spread of lungworm.

Preventative products for lungworm must be given monthly and can only be prescribed by your vet; standard three monthly worming regimes (often recommended to treat round and tapeworms) will not prevent this particular parasite. Speak to your vet to get more information about how to keep your dog protected. Dog owners can also check this online lungworm locator to find out if cases of lungworm have been reported in their area.

For further information on treatment and prevention of lungworm, see our guide to lungworm treatment and prevention.

References:

  1. Kirk et al., Vet Record (2014), 175, 118
  2. Conboy G et al., Parasitol Res (2017), 116:  S41-S54
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