Lungworm In Dogs: Symptoms And Treatment

Lungworm in dogs was once rare in the UK but is becoming more common, so it's important to know what causes it and how you can prevent it.

What is lungworm?

Lungworm is a type of parasitic worm that can infect dogs. Unlike other intestinal worms such as tapeworm and roundworm, adult lungworm travel around a dog's body and can damage their lungs and other major organs - causing fatal consequences if left untreated.

What causes lungworm in dogs?

Lungworm larvae live in snails and slugs, as well as the faeces from infected dogs or foxes (which is where the slugs and snails pick it up from).

When these are eaten, either intentionally or accidentally, the lungworm larvae are ingested into the dog’s digestive system. The larvae can also be picked up from snail and slug slime, so any dog toys or bowls left outside can pose a risk. Frogs can also become a host for the larvae.

Once a dog becomes infected, the larvae mature and move around the body, eventually ending up in and around the lungs. The adult lungworm then lay eggs which mature into more larvae which are subsequently coughed up, swallowed and exit the body via the dog’s faeces, thus starting the cycle again.

This cycle of infection means that lungworm can easily spread within dog communities, so prevention is key.

What are the symptoms of lungworm in dogs?

Lungworm can cause cardiac and respiratory diseases and can be fatal in severe cases. Many dogs won’t show signs of lungworm for some time, meaning it can go undiagnosed in many cases.

Symptoms of lungworm include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Unexplained or excessive bruising
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness and depression
  • Pale gums
  • Seizures

How to treat lungworm

If you think your dog has contracted lungworm, contact your local vet immediately.

Diagnosing lungworm can be tricky; your vet will carry out a number of diagnostic tests, such as taking blood and faeces samples to see if any eggs or larvae are present. They may also conduct a chest x-ray or insert a tiny camera into your dog’s windpipe to find evidence of the parasite.

These tests will help your vet decide which course of treatment best suits the needs of your dog. Occasionally, lungworm can be killed off by changing your parasite prevention routine.

However, if there are signs of bleeding, blood transfusions and a stay in hospital may be required. There could also be a chance of permanent damage, so prevention is essential.

How to prevent lungworm

Prevention is better than treatment. Using effective lungworm prevention as part of your ongoing parasite treatment is the best way to protect your dog. Speak to your vet about the best option for your dog and for more information about high-risk areas.

Be extra-vigilant when out walking with your dog to stop them from eating slugs, snails and faeces. Always remember to pick up after your own dog and wash any toys and bowls that have been outside to reduce the risk of infection.

Puppies are renowned for eating anything they come across, you should be especially careful during spells of wet weather when slugs and snails are frequent garden visitors - always ensure your puppy is supervised and fully up to date with their worming treatment. 

Speak to your vet for advice on protecting your dog against lungworm.

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