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Deadly dog disease casts a long shadow across the UK
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Deadly dog disease casts a long shadow across the UK

If you’re not aware of the dangers of lungworm, then it’s time to get acquainted with this nasty parasite that can cause serious health problems in dogs.

The Pet Gazette reports that there have been 2,762 recorded confirmed cases of lungworm in the UK, with south east England and Wales considered hotspot regions for cases. Untreated, lungworm can be fatal.

Worryingly, the disease seems to be spreading. The British Veterinary Association notes that lungworm, once previously only found in parts of the southwest and home counties, is now widespread throughout much of the UK.  Research has revealed the parasite’s presence in northern areas of England, and even Scotland – locations which were not previously considered at risk. In addition, a survey by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College found that one in five vet practices in the UK have reported at least one case of lungworm in a dog.

The UK dog population is increasingly at risk

Commenting in the Pet Gazette, Dr Huw Stacey, director of clinical services at Vets4Pets, which is working to raise awareness of the disease amongst dog owners and vets, said: “The continued spread of the lungworm parasite throughout the UK over the past 10 years or so means the UK dog population is increasingly at risk. Cases of lungworm being seen in Scotland shows that the parasite can easily establish itself in a new area that wasn’t considered a traditional place for cases.”

You can check if there are cases of lungworm in your local area via this online lungworm tracking map

How the infection is contracted

The lungworm larvae is carried by slugs and snails. Dogs can become infected if they consume slugs and snails deliberately, or by accident, for example when eating grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or picking up toys left outside as the larvae can be left in the slugs and snails slime trail. Unlike many diseases, lungworm cannot be passed from dog to dog. The worm needs slugs and snails to act as a host in order to grow and develop. Frogs can also be part of the lungworm life cycle as they eat slugs and snails and become hosts. 

The damage done

Once a dog ingests lungworm larvae, lungworms grow inside them. Despite its name, the lungworm parasite resides in the heart and blood vessels of an infected animal, where it lays its eggs. These then get carried to the lungs, potentially causing heart and breathing problems and pneumonia. Once the worms start to produce their own larvae, after about 28 days, more serious problems can occur, such as haemorrhages in the lungs, liver, intestine, eyes and spinal cord. The larvae are coughed up by the dog, swallowed and passed in the faeces, which goes on to infect more snails and slugs and the cycle starts all over again.

Symptoms can vary

Symptoms of lungworm may be mild at first and some dogs don’t show clear signs of disease. The signs of lungworm can be easily confused with other illnesses, so it’s essential to consult your vet immediately if your pet displays any of the following:

  • Coughing and breathing problems
  • Excessive bleeding from minor wounds, nose bleeds or bleeding into the eye, suggesting blood is not clotting normally
  • Paleness around the eyes and gums, indicating anaemia
  • General illness and changes in behaviour – getting tired easily, not wanting to go out for a walk, poor appetite, listlessness, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhoea, fits and seizures

The good news is that treatment for lungworm is available and, providing it’s caught early enough, most dogs will make a full recovery.

Protect your pet

However, as more cases of lungworm are reported around the UK, many vets are urging dog owners to take the growing threat of lungworm seriously and take steps to protect their dog as prevention is always better than cure.

Lungworm can be prevented with a regular monthly worming regime, available from your vet. However, there are two important points to be aware of:

  • Not all wormers are effective against lungworm, so talk to your vet about a suitable product
  • Lungworm prevention must be given monthly. Worming every three months (which is often advised for other parasites such as round and tapeworm) will not be effective at preventing this parasite

Reduce the risks

  • Always pick up and safely dispose of your dog’s faeces
  • Regularly and thoroughly clean water bowls
  • Don’t leave toys lying around the garden for slugs and snails to slide into

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Sources: petgazette.biz, mypetandi.bayer.com/uk, bva.co.uk, vetsurgeon.org, bluecross.org.uk, vets-now.com, vettimes.co.uk

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