Lungworm in Dogs
There has been an alarming increase in reported cases of lungworm in dogs in the UK, but what exactly is lungworm? It sounds pretty disgusting, but how do we know if our dogs are infected with it or not.
Lungworm is actually a type of nematode, a microscopic organism that comprises several species. The most common lungworm that affects dogs are called Oslerus osleri or Filaroides osleri, but the type of lungworm being reported in the UK is Angiostrongylus vasorum (French heartworm) which is a life-threatening parasitic worm.
Dogs who contract lungworm can potentially die, and so it is vital to recognise the signs and symptoms of lungworm in order for treatment to be started as soon as possible.
Despite lungworm affecting dogs in epidemic proportions in the UK, a recent study carried out by boffins at Bristol University found that only 6% of all UK dog owners have ever even heard of lungworm, far less know anything about the symptoms.
The Signs and Symptoms of Lungworm
The signs and symptoms of lungworm in dogs are many and varied, but usually include some or all of the following:
- persistent coughing
- small injuries and abrasions bleeding more than normal
- vomiting and diarrhoea
- pale skin
- bleeding in eyes and ears
- tires easily after exercise
- stunting of growth in puppies
- difficulty rising
- weight loss
Lungworm tends to affect younger dogs less than 2 years old more than older dogs.
Life Cycle of the Lungworm and Mode of Transmission
Lungworm is carried by slugs and snails, although frogs can also carry it, and many urban foxes have become infected with it too. This is why it's rate of infection is spreading so fast.
Many foxes from the countryside have moved into cities where food is plentiful owing in part to late night food takeaway venues. When cities fall silent in the wee small hours, the foxes feast off discarded food wrappings.
Their droppings carry the lungworm infection, and early dog walkers become at risk. While some dog parasites can infect humans, thankfully this one doesn't.
A dog will become infected by eating a snail or slug that has perhaps ingested infected fox or dog feces. Snail and slug slime is also a known mode of infection, so a dog can catch lungworm by licking and sniffing anything with fresh slime on it.
Outdoor water bowls and rain puddles are also at risk of transmitting the infection.
Dogs can only catch this particular species of lungworm, Angiostrongylus vasorum, through eating infected snails and slugs or their slime.
If your dog never eats them, nor drinks from an outdoor water bowl, he will not catch this type of lungworm, although he could be at risk if a dog toy or bone that has been left out in the rain has an infected snail or slug pass over it.
When it enters a dog's mouth, it passes down into the stomach. From there it migrates through the stomach wall into the intestines.
Then it heads for the liver and eventually ends up in the major blood vessels next to the heart, specifically the pulmonary artery.
It lays eggs, and they work their way through to the capilliaries (tiny blood vessels) of the lungs where they hatch out.
They irritate the dog so that he coughs, and expels the larvae from the lungs into the mouth, where they again travel down through the intestinal system and the whole procedure begins again.
Any passed out through the dog's feces are then eaten by snails and slugs and they become hosts and the whole cycle continues and other dogs become infected.
Life cycle of the Lungworm
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How to Prevent Lungworm
There are various common sense methods you can use to reduce your dog's chances of contracting lungworm.
- Don't leave any dog toys in the garden where slugs and snails can crawl over them.
- Never leave a water bowl outside.
- Make sure your dog gets wormed regularly.
- Ask your vet for worming tablets that will also help prevent lungworm. Note that dogs can still get infected even although they have been on the correct worming tablets.
- Do not allow your dog to eat any slugs or snails. This means being extra-vigilant when you take him out for walks, or when he is in the garden.
- Be aware of the dangers of lungworm, and visit your vet if you notice your dog developing any of the symptoms.
- There is a spot-on treatment available that is effective against the Angiostrongylus vasorum lungworm and is applied monthly to the back of the neck similar to the way Frontline works.
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How to Treat Lungworm in Dogs
The earlier lungworm is diagnosed in your dog, the earlier treatment can begin and the less damage your dog will suffer. Dogs that have suffered for quite a while are less likely to respond to treatment and may indeed die.
Your vet may have to obtain samples of your dog's feces to make a definite diagnosis if lungworm is suspected, and he will require three different stool samples taken on three consecutive days.
Firstly, there is the spot-on treatment mentioned above. Bayer make a very good product called Advocate, which will also treat and prevent a wide variety of dog and cat parasites.
This will kill off any infection in the dog, but if your dog has been poorly he may need a more aggressive treatment. Discuss this with your vet. If he has suffered organ damage he may need antibiotics and/or powerful costisteroids to help him recover.
Sadly, some dogs do not recover from a severe attack of lungworm. This is why it is important to be aware of this parasitic worm's existence, and to keep an eye out for symptoms.
While it is preventable with Advocate, not everyone can afford all the medications their dogs need to stay healthy.
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Medications that work against Lungworm
or any other brand name that includes the drugs Moxidectin or Fenbendazole. Drug treatment for dogs should be decided by vets who are trained to know how different medications affect different breeds of dog.
Dog that have been diagnosed with lungworm are highly infectious to other dogs. If you have puppies or other dogs in the house, you will have to treat all of them, whether they have been diagnosed or not. Special care should be taken to wash all dog bedding and thoroughly clean any area your dog frequents.
While there is no evidence that lungworm can pass to humans, keep children away from your dog until your vet tells you it is no longer infectious.
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