Lungworm is a parasite (Latin name: Angiostrongylus Vasorum) which affects dogs and is very prevalent in the South East of England, including our part of Surrey.
Dogs become infected by swallowing the worm larvae which are spread by slugs, snails and sometimes frogs. This means infection can be picked up by dogs eating grass or licking soil or ground that slugs, snails and frogs have previously been on. Foxes can act as a host for lungworm so their faeces can also be responsible for the spread of disease.
Once the dog has picked up larvae, it grows inside the body; adult lungworms mainly live in the heart and the blood vessels supplying the lungs. This can lead to breathing problems, coughing or becoming tired from exercise quicker. Lungworm can also interfere with blood clotting. This can cause excessive bleeding from small wounds, the dog having nose bleeds, bleeding into the eyes and anaemia (low red blood cells) which shows as pale membranes in the eyes and gums. This inability to clot the blood can cause major problems if an affected dog underwent surgery such as neutering. Bleeding into the brain can cause seizures and behavioural change. Less specific signs include weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea.
You should seek veterinary advice if you see any of these clinical signs. Dogs infected with lungworm can make a complete recovery if the condition is treated quickly, including the use of special worming medicines.
Prevention of lungworm is simple. A chemical spot-on product, applied monthly to the back the neck, can prevent your dog from getting the disease by killing any larvae they pick up. This is a prescription-only product so is only available from vets. This product also kills a number of other parasites, including fleas, some mites, some lice and various worms, some of which can be passed onto and affect humans.
We have seen several cases of lungworm in the practice in the last year – it really can kill so please talk to us about protecting your dog.