Lungworm infection in dogs, caused by the parasite Angiostrongylus vasorum, is spreading.
A recent nationwide survey of UK vets has revealed that over 25 per cent of those questioned had either confirmed or suspected a case of this potentially fatal condition, yet as few as six per cent of dog owners had even heard of the disease.
Lungworm (spread by slugs and snails) is now a nationwide threat to dogs.
Dogs become infected with the lungworm through eating slugs and snails which carry the larvae of the parasite. Infections were most common in parts of Ireland, Wales and southern England. However, recent outbreaks as far north as Scotland mean the parasite is now a nationwide threat.
With this in mind, Bayer Animal Health has launched a ‘Be Lungworm Aware’ campaign to help raise the profile of this parasite amongst dog owners. The initiative aims to make a wide range of advice available, including signs of infection and how to obtain treatment, and to promote the benefits of a parasite control programme that takes into account the risk of dogs becoming infected.
Lungworm is a particularly dangerous condition as if left untreated, it is often fatal. Signs to look out for include coughing, reluctance to exercise, depression, weight loss, fits, vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, paralysis and persistent bleeding from even small cuts. Dogs known to eat slugs and snails should also be considered candidates for a check up with a vet, even if they are showing no outward signs of infection.
“The condition has become a nationwide threat to the canine population, however awareness of this particular lungworm is low,” commented Bayer Animal Health. “The ‘Be Lungworm Aware’ campaign aims to educate owners on the risks associated with infection and encourage them to visit their vet for further information and to discuss their dogs’ parasite protection plan.”
Lungworm Background - Killer disease of dogs
The lungworm Angiostrongylus vasorum is a potentially lethal parasite that can infect dogs, and is spreading across the UK.
Sometimes referred to as the French Heartworm, left untreated this parasite represents a very serious risk to a dog’s health and can kill. On a positive note, increased awareness amongst vets of the condition and the availability of an effective spot-on flea and worm product means that vets are well placed to manage the disease.
Dogs catch lungworm through eating slugs and snails which carry the larvae of the parasite. While most dogs do not habitually eat slugs and snails, they may do so by accident e.g. when a slug or snail is sitting on a bone or a favourite toy, or when drinking from a puddle or outdoor water bowl.
Some dogs take great pleasure in eating these miniature ‘treats’, and should be considered at risk from infection.
Foxes can also become infected, and the increase in urban fox populations might be a reason for the spread of the parasite across the country.
In addition, global warming has been suggested as a factor for the movement of the lungworm to the north of the UK, with warmer weather allowing the parasite to survive in areas seemingly too cold in the past.
There are many signs to be aware of, although an infected dog may appear totally healthy. Coughing, reluctance to exercise, depression, weight loss, fits, vomiting, diarrhoea and persistent bleeding from even minor cuts are all possible signs. Dogs under the age of two appear to be more susceptible than older dogs, though dogs of all ages and breeds can be affected. The wide range of signs can easily be confused with other illnesses so contacting your veterinary practice is important. Early diagnosis by a vet, followed by appropriate treatment, will usually lead to a full recovery.
If you suspect your dog may have eaten a slug or a snail or is exhibiting any of the signs of lungworm, it is important that you make an appointment at your vet for a check-up. Your vet can perform a relatively simple test that can help determine whether your dog is infected.
Hints and tips to help prevent lungworm adversely affecting your dog
Lungworm is now being reported by vets across many parts of the UK, including Scotland. However, there's no reason why this potentially fatal disease should present your dog with any particular problems.
A little extra vigilance and a few simple precautions could avoid any suffering should your dog come into contact with this particularly nasty parasite.
• Watch to see if your dog likes eating slugs and/or snails, particularly in spring and autumn when these molluscs are more prevalent
• Know your dog – signs of the disease are varied and can easily be confused with other ailments, so keep an eye out for anything unexpected. Signs of the disease include:
- reluctance to exercise
- weight loss
- paralysis/inability to walk
- excessive bleeding from even minor wounds
• Contact your vet if you have any concerns, your dog habitually eats slugs or snails, or if see any of the signs described above
Where possible, take precautions
• Avoid the use of outdoor drinking water and food bowls which often attract slugs or snails – there is evidence that slime trails can infect a dog if they are eaten
• Don't leave your dog's toys, chews or bones in the garden as they can attract snails
• Ask your vet for a parasite control programme that takes into account the risk of dogs becoming infected
Detailed information on the disease and advice on what to do if you suspect your dog is infected with this parasite can be found online at www.lungworm.co.uk.