Once a rare condition in the UK, the potentially deadly parasite lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is now widespread across the country, with cases frequently reported in Southern England, Wales Northern England, the Midlands and Scotland.
Recently, there has been a surge of cases reported in Oxfordshire and Cheshire.
Dogs and foxes pick up the Angiostrongylus vasorum (AV) larvae after eating infected slugs and snails or licking the slime trails left behind. The larvae mature and migrate around the body, ending up in and around the lungs. The worms will then lay eggs, which develop into larvae in the dog’s body and are then coughed up by the dog, swallowed and passed in the faeces. Inevitably this will infect more snails and slugs, which once infected, continue to spread the disease, as the parasite can even survive their slime trails. And so the cycle continues!
Expanding fox populations and increased slug and snail populations due to wet springs, are thought to be behind the increase in cases.
Dogs of all ages and breeds can become infected but studies have shown that some breeds are more commonly affected than others, although why this is the case is not yet known, it is thought that dogs who love to investigate, sniffing out new scents and snuffling around in the soil could be at particular risk.
Spaniels are one of the most commonly affected breeds. It is thought this could be the result of the breed being regularly outdoors and used for working.
Symptoms in dogs:
Many dogs won’t initially show symptoms of lungworm and it can go unnoticed for quite some time as the symptoms can easily be confused with other illnesses. Some dogs will show no symptoms but can shed the larvae in their faeces for significant periods of time.
Dogs will often cough due to the physical presence of the worms in their lung area.
Problems associated with bleeding, such as blood in urine, vomiting blood and petechial haemorrhage (pink blood spots on the gums) may be signs of lungworm.
Owners may also notice a severe reddening around the eye – scleral haemorrhage.
Other symptoms of lungworm can include:
Breathing problems, Coughing, Tiring easily, Poor blood clotting, Excessive bleeding from even minor wounds or cuts, Nose bleeds, Weight loss, Poor appetite, Vomiting, Changes in behaviour, Depression, Lethargy, Anaemia, Diarrhoea & Seizures.
To reduce the chances of your dog contracting lungworm, ensure faeces is picked up and disposed of correctly and don’t leave toys or feed and water bowls outside. Obviously, it is harder to stop a dog drinking from puddles or eating slugs and snails if this is their nature.
As an extra precautionary measure, a simple monthly spot-on treatment can be used to treat and prevent lungworm.
If you have any concerns it’s always best to speak to your vet.