This post is sponsored by Elanco. For more information, visit their useful local Lungworm Map here!

Lungworm – Angiostrongylus vasorum, to be precise – is an unusual parasite. For most of the worms we worry about, they’re always around, and we all know that our dogs are always at risk, and so probably need preventative treatment. But lungworm seems to have snuck in under our radar… so, what is the risk to YOUR dog, in YOUR area, with YOUR lifestyle? 

What is lungworm?

The lungworms are a group of parasites whose larvae are shed from the lungs (by being coughed up, swallowed, and excreted in faeces). In the UK there are several species, but only one is a serious threat to our pets – Angiostrongylus. The others, Crenosoma vulpis and Aelurostrongylus abstrusus, are primarily parasites of foxes and cats, respectively, and very rarely cause significant illness.

All of the lungworms rely on an intermediate host – the larvae infect this, and it then infects the dog (or cat or fox). For Angiostrongylus, the main intermediate hosts are slugs and snails (although frogs may occasionally be infected as well). When licked or eaten – or even the slime trails are licked – the parasites can infect your dog, burrowing through the gut wall and moving through the veins until they set up home in and around the heart.

What does lungworm infection do to the dog?

Initially, the presence of larvae in the lungs causes a cough – in fact, the parasite is relying on this to move the parasites up into the throat. However, in heavy infestations it can also result in difficulty breathing and even dangerously low blood oxygen levels. The other major problem is that the parasites can interfere with the body’s clotting systems, resulting in abnormal and internal bleeding: and this too can be fatal.

Sadly, lungworm infestations are not uncommonly fatal to affected dogs.

So how do I know if my dog is at risk?

Well, there are a number of different risk factors to take into account:

1) Regional variation

Different parts of the country carry different risks of lungworm. While historically the south and east of the UK were the main hotspots, more recent data suggest that the numbers are rising across the country (1). However – that does disguise a significant degree of local variation. Some towns or villages might see very few cases, while their neighbours get regular cases or, sadly, deaths. So your area might be higher or lower risk than the average

2) Numbers of local hosts

One of the key factors in this variation is the number of intermediate hosts (slugs, snails and maybe frogs) that your dog has access to, and the numbers of other hosts who can maintain a reservoir of infective larvae – primarily foxes.

3) Lifestyle factors

Ultimately, though, even if there’s a lot of lungworm-infected slugs and snails around, whether your dog contracts the condition depends on whether they have access to them. Toys and bowls or, worst of all, leftover food left out where slugs can crawl over them are the key risks. That said, travel can also be a factor – if you live in a low lungworm area, but visit high risk areas, there’s a much higher chance of your dog becoming infected.

So do I need to treat my dog for lungworm or not?

In most parts of the UK, the answer is “probably” (and in much of the rest, the answer is “definitely”!). However – the best person to advise you is your vet – who can help you put together a personalised parasite control plan that will protect your dog from all the parasites they’re at risk from – fleas, ticks, roundworm, tapeworm, and lungworm, depending on your pet’s specific needs.

Remember, there aren’t any products available over the counter or without a prescription that are effective against lungworm. And every product currently on the market that is effective needs monthly treatment – so it’s really important to make sure that you talk to your vet and make sure that your dog has the most appropriate preventative treatment.

And if you want to know what the local risks are where you live – take a look at your local Lungworm Map here!

Scientific Articles:

  1. Taylor CS, Garcia Gato R, Learmount J, Aziz NA, Montgomery C, Rose H, Coulthwaite CL, McGarry JW, Forman DW, Allen S, Wall R, Morgan ER. Increased prevalence and geographic spread of the cardiopulmonary nematode Angiostrongylus vasorum in fox populations in Great Britain. Parasitology. 2015 Aug;142(9):1190-5. doi: 10.1017/S0031182015000463

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