The dangers of lungworm in dogs have become more recognised in the public eye as of late, caused by the increased number of patients suffering from the disease throughout the UK. While infections were once more predominant in southeastern England and south Wales, a study completed by The Royal Veterinary College and The Institute of Parasitology shows that cases are now accumulating in central England, and even stretching to both northern England and Scotland. Since the number of infections and deaths seem to be climbing, the need for pet owners to become well-educated and more focused on the prevention of lungworm in dogs is vital to the well-being of pets.
What is Lungworm?
Lungworm, the most common species being Angiostrongylus Vasosum, is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and blood vessels of an infected dog. The parasite can cause many symptoms, multiple illnesses, and even death if not treated properly.
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How are dogs infected?
It is important to understand the life cycle of a lungworm to fully comprehend the disease. It begins when larvae (1st stage of the lifecycle) are present in canine or fox faeces. Slugs, snails or frogs that feed on the faeces become hosts of the parasite once the larvae are ingested. This begins the 2nd stage of the lifecycle. Canine infection occurs when a dog eats or licks a slug, snail or frog intentionally or from eating dirt or grass. Thus, the dog consumes the larvae and the disease process begins.
It is suggested that the slime trails of the slug or snail may also include the larvae, although there is debate to the accuracy.
The dangers of lungworm begin immediately, as this 3rd stage larvae penetrate the walls of the intestines and travel into the lymph nodes to develop into the next lifecycle. Migrating through the body, they eventually reach and reside in the pulmonary arties and right ventricle of the heart where they develop into adult worms (4th stage).
Once fully mature, the worms mate and produce eggs, initiating a new lifecycle. These eggs travel into the lungs of the dog. The eggs subsequently hatch, and the 1st stage of the larvae migrates to the airways. The overwhelming presence and irritation of the larvae residing in the airway initiates coughing. Instinctively, the dog swallows after coughing, and as a result, the larvae enter the digestive system and pass through the canine’s faeces, initiating the process once again. The entire sequence can take place anywhere from 28 to 108 days.
What are the Symptoms of Lungworm?
Several symptoms develop as a result of a lungworm infection. Respiratory issues such as labored breathing or coughing are often presented, as well as more complicated health problems such as pneumonia or emphysema. Weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, anemia and congestive heart failure are just a few of the multiple signs of the disease.
One of the dangers of lungworm in dogs is that the disease’s symptoms mimic so many other health issues. As a result, a correct diagnosis can be delayed.
How is Lungworm Disease Diagnosed?
Initially, a diagnosis was made via a faecal sample. Unfortunately, larvae may not always be present in a sample, and consequently the reading may not provide an accurate diagnosis. In addition, it can sometime require multiple faecal tests to locate the larvae, as well as up to three days of waiting (per sample) for the lab results. The extended time frame necessary to receive the results only adds to the dangers of lungworm because treatment is inevitably postponed.
Other diagnostic options include imaging, or the use of a bronchoscope. Performing a bronchoscopy allows a photo to be taken via the scope, displaying the parasites that reside within the lungs.
The easiest and most recent diagnostic tool, however, is an in house blood test that takes only 15 minutes to complete and requires only a small sample of blood. If a positive test result is given, the veterinary surgeon can immediately begin treatment and elimination of the worms. This expedited diagnosis prevents many dogs from suffering longer than necessary prior to treatment.
How is Lungworm Treated?
There are several approved medications available to treat lungworm that can be safely taken by an infected dog, each generally providing a full recovery. Note that these medications must be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and are not over the counter products.
How Can Lungworm be Prevented?
While treatment is typically successful, prevention is the ultimate protection from the dangers of lungworm in dogs.
- Scoop and dispose of dog waste on a regular basis.
- Keep check on food and water bowls, and make sure they are free of slugs, snails and slime trails.
- Make sure dogs avoid contact with slugs, snails, slime trails and frogs.
- Discuss proper parasite control with a veterinary surgeon, and faithfully adhere to a worming regimen.
By following this simple protocol, the dangers of lungworm will not negatively impact your companion, and he or she can live a happy, healthy life without fear of infection.
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For more information on Lungworm, visit http://www.lungworm.co.uk/.
Be Lungworm Aware, 2015, Retreived from: http://www.lungworm.co.uk/learn-about-lungworm/
Kirk, BVetMed MRCVS1, G. Limon, MVZ MSc1, F. J. Guitian, LV PhD FHEA DiplECVPH1, C. Hermosilla, DVM Dr.med.vet. Dr.habil. DipEVPC2 and M. T. Fox, BVetMed PhD DiplEVPC FHEA MRCVS1, 2014, Angiostrongylus vasorum in Great Britain: a Nationwide Postal Questionnaire Survey of Veterinary Practices. Retreived from http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/175/5/118.abstract
Companion Animal Parasite Council, 5-2007, Parasites of Other Systems – Lungworms. Retrieved from http://www.capcvet.org/capc-recommendations/lungworms
Pearl Veterinary Group, 22 August, 2014, Local Vet Warns of Increased Spread of Deadly Dog Disease Across the UK. Retrieved from http://www.pearlvetgroup.co.uk/local-vet-warns-of-increased-spread-of-deadly-dog-disease-across-the-uk/
Ruth Willis BVM&S DVC MRCVS RCVS, Lungworm in Dogs in the UK. Retrieved from http://www.vetsnowreferrals.com/pet-owner-guides/lungworm-in-dogs-in-the-uk/
Ashewood Veterinary Centre, 2015, Summer Garden Watch. Retrievd from http://www.vetsleitrim.ie/news/page/2/
Flynn Veterinary Centres, 5 January 2013, Are You Lungworm Aware? Retrieved from http://flynnvets.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Lungworm-Aware.pdf