Heading into spring and despite an increase in sunny days we still have our fair share of wet ones here in the UK. This type of warm wet climate increases the risk of lungworm infection in both cats and dogs. However, lungworm is easily preventable if you are aware of the risks. Read on to find out more about the parasite and what you can do to prevent your pets from getting infected.
Dogs can be infected by a type of lungworm called Angiostrongylus vasorum. This worm cannot infect cats or humans but can also be found in foxes and badgers. Traditionally canine lungworm has been more common in the South of England but is now on the rise across the country. The worm is not spread from dog to dog (or fox/badger to fox/dog) but must first infect a snail, slug or frog. Dogs are infected when they eat a snail, slug or frog infected by the worm’s larvae, either by accident or on purpose in some cases. The larvae mature in the dog’s body then the adult worms migrate to the heart and blood vessels, where they can cause serious or fatal haemorrhages if left untreated. The worms will start to produce their own larvae which are coughed up, swallowed, and then passed out in the faeces and go on to infect more slugs and snails.
Clinical signs of canine lungworm infection are unpleasant and can be any of the following:
- Coughing – often chronic (ongoing and long-lasting)
- Breathing problems – getting worse over time
- Reluctance to exercise
- Prolonged bleeding after injury
- Worms or blood in faeces
- Abnormal bruising
- Weight loss
Although cats can’t get infected by the canine lungworm they are vulnerable to different lungworms, in the UK mainly Aelurostrongylus abstrusus. These cannot infect humans or dogs. Aelurostrongylus abstrusus is not passed from cat to cat but is instead contracted when cats eat birds, rodents or frogs that have become infected from infected slugs and snails. The species Eucoleus aerophilus is found in some parts of Europe and infects cats when they eat the infective eggs that can be found in water or in the environment. Once infected the worms mature and travel to the lungs and airways.
Clinical signs of infection in cats are not specific to lungworm but may include:
- Chronic cough
- Increased breathing rate or difficulty breathing
- In most cases, cats have no signs of infection
Lungworm is very tricky to diagnose in both cats and dogs so may involve a variety of diagnostic tests such as clinical examination, faecal examination, x-rays, blood tests and more. However, the sooner the disease is caught the easier and quicker it is to treat, so if you notice any of the above signs then you should take your dog to see one of our vets as soon as possible. In the early stages of infection, treatment will involve a course of anti-parasitic drugs that are often successful in clearing the infection, leading to a full recovery. The more advanced the disease, the longer the treatment and the less chance of a full recovery. If your pet has been diagnosed with lungworm then it is particularly important to regularly pick up their faeces from your garden, or when out on walks, as well as cleaning out cat litter trays regularly. The waste should be disposed of responsibly in a black bin or dog poo bin. This will greatly reduce the risk of more wildlife getting infected and leading to re-infection of your pet.
Diagnosis and treatment can often be time intensive and costly, so the best course of action for Lungworm is to prevent the infection in the first place. Luckily there are a few straightforward steps you can follow in order to achieve this. Firstly, talk to one of our vets and come up with a regular worming plan. These can be in the form of tablets or a spot on treatment so are easy to administer. The frequency of treatment varies between products so it is important to follow the vet’s guidelines on how often to use the treatment. Also, certain products will also protect your pet against other parasites, so it is worth finding the product most suitable for your pet’s needs and of course we will be able to help your every step of the way. Secondly, trying to prevent dogs from intentionally eating slugs and snails while out on walks or in the garden can really help reduce the risk. For cats, discouraging hunting behaviours by providing mental stimulation via toys as well as a balanced diet can be very effective.
Hopefully, you will have finished this feeling a bit more informed about Lungworm and how to prevent it. If you have any questions or concerns then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us and we will be happy to help.