Take early action to tackle lungworm

Tess Daly meets poodles Troy and Cedric at Crufts 2016  to support the Be Lungworm Aware campaign and raise awareness of the lungworm parasite, which can be fatal to dogs. Picture by Fabio De Paola/PA Wire
Tess Daly meets poodles Troy and Cedric at Crufts 2016 to support the Be Lungworm Aware campaign and raise awareness of the lungworm parasite, which can be fatal to dogs. Picture by Fabio De Paola/PA Wire

You may have seen the recent adverts on TV raising awareness of lungworm.

If you have, you will probably agree it is an effective campaign, and we have seen an increase in the number of clients asking for a wormer that protects against lungworm, as not all do.

It is much easier, safer and cheaper to prevent an infection becoming advanced.

Thankfully, we are in a very low risk area. In the last seven years there have only been 13 reported cases within a 50-mile radius of Morpeth; a similar area in the south east of England has had 1,043 cases. The difference between the areas is not fully clear, but it is assumed that the number of cases will increase.

Dogs pick up the infection by eating the mature larval stage that develops in slugs and snails and can also be shed in their slime. Once the dog has eaten the larva, it migrates from the intestines through the body to the right side of the heart and pulmonary artery. About 40 days later it matures to an adult and the females lay eggs. These hatch and pass into the lungs, where they are coughed up and swallowed by the dog, and later passed out in faeces. This early larval stage cannot re-infect the dog without developing further in a slug or snail.

Dogs cannot pick up the infection from other dogs, but they act as a ‘reservoir’ of larvae being shed. If a dog is left untreated it can continue to shed for at least two years.

Foxes can become infected in the same way so areas with high numbers of urban foxes are thought to be higher risk.

The signs can be very variable, but the most common are cough and abnormal breathing due to the damage caused to the lung. Another sign is a bleeding disorder, meaning it takes longer for the blood to clot, but this is much harder to notice, especially in a dog without a wound.

In a recent survey the first sign in 26 per cent of dogs was collapse due to a blood clot in the lung, although the TV advert leads you to believe this figure is much higher. Even if the signs initially are mild, they can progress to heart failure if left untreated.

Treatment usually has to be prompt and is often complicated. It is much easier, safer and cheaper to prevent an infection becoming advanced. Regular worming with a suitable product will prevent the larvae eaten by the dog developing into adults and causing disease. You should speak to your veterinary practice for advice on which wormer is best for your pet.

By Amy Chapman, Vet