Lungworm

It’s no secret there’s a new kid in town, and that’s Angiostrongylus vasorum, better known as lungworm. In all reality lungworm isn’t a new parasite to the community and its prevalence has potentially been exaggerated by pharmaceutical companies. That being said, this parasite can be dangerous and potentially fatal to your pet, so let’s take a quick look at what pet owners should know about lungworm.

The lowdown on lungworm:

Lungworm is a parasite that is found in both dogs and cats. They are species-specific. This means that dog lungworms (Angiostrongylus vasorum) infect dogs and cat lungworms (Aelurostrongylus abstrusus) infect cats. These worms are not spread directly pet to pet, but instead through intermediate hosts. Just think of the intermediate host as the middle man. The intermediate host needed for completing the lungworm life cycle is a slug or snail. Your pet may consume a slug/snail (or even just their slime), swallows the lungworm larvae into the intestinal tract, where they develop and migrate through the body. The end target location are the blood vessels in the lungs (+/- heart). Here adults develop and make more larvae, which are coughed up, swallowed, and returned to the gut to come out in the stools. New slugs/snails consume larvae and the cycle starts again. It has been documented that foxes are becoming a major carrier/spreader of lungworm. Foxes become infected the same way dogs do, and then larvae are passed in the faeces to infect more slugs/snails that then can be consumed by our pets. 

Pets at higher risk are those that spend a lot of time outside and like to explore. These pets are more likely to come into contact with slug/snail slime or to consume them directly. It can even be as simple as drinking water or chewing on plants that have small slugs or slime in them! Another common culprit are toys or bowls that live outside and have touched an infected slug or snail. Cases of lungworm in the UK have been documented in higher numbers in the south, though it is anticipated cases in northern England, Scotland and Ireland will continue to rise. 

Check for signs:

Signs your pet is infected with lungworm can be variable. It may be as general as weight loss, vomiting, and decreased appetite. This can progress to coughing and even bleeding abnormalities. Your vet can do a few tests to diagnose lungworm. These include a special faecal test called a Baerman funnel, a blood test called an ELISA, x-rays of the lungs looking for damage, as well as a scope of the airways to collect a sample looking for larvae. Treatment is variable depending on how severely your pet is affected. Hospitalisation is needed in some cases, and as mentioned occasional cases can be fatal. 

One of my mantras when it comes to medicine is, PREVENTION is key. Prevention is always better than treatment in lungworm cases. What many pet owners don’t realise is that there is not one wormer that treats all types of worms. This is why it is essential you discuss your pets specific needs/risks with a vet to determine the best parasite preventative for them. Many products out on the market that owners know as “wormer” will treat the most common types such as roundworm or hookworms, but not tapeworms or lungworms.

Tops tips to prevent lungworm in your furry friends…

  1. Assess your pet’s risk with a vet. VetBox subscribers have free access to vet support.
  2. Monitor your pets when outside (try your best to prevent them eating slugs and snails).
  3. Pick up your pets poo and clean outside toys/bowls. 
  4. Be on the lookout for foxes in your area (primarily their faeces in your garden).

Get in touch with the VetBox vet team to discuss your pet’s specific risks.

For up to date expertise on small animal parasites, visit the European Scientific Council on Companion Animal Parasites website at: 

https://www.esccap.org/national-associations/UK+and+Ireland/11/

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