How to Recognise Lungworm Symptoms in Your Dog
What is lungworm?
Lungworms (Angiostrongylus vasorum ) are parasites that infect dogs and other mammals.The parasite is ingested by the dog if they eat a slug or snail that is infested with the worm. Wild animals such as foxes are also at risk of catching lungworm and this may be one way that the parasite has spread through countries such as the UK. This disease, if not treated, can be fatal. In addition, dogs who have the infection will spread it into the general environment in the form of the parasite's larvae. The larvae are excreted through the dog's faeces so increasing the chances of other animals becoming infected.
Lungworms infect dogs usually when they eat snails or slugs
The Lifecycle of the lungworm
Like most parasites the lungworm will take on a variety of forms during it's lifecycle. These forms evolve to suit the host that the parasite is living in at the time. Larvae are bascially the most immature stage of the parasite.
Slugs and snails pick up the larvae from the ground. The larvae develop into the next stage of the worm. When a dog deliberately or accidentally eats a slug or snail, then once the worm is in the dog's gut it will begin to develop further. From the gut the worm will make it's way to the pulmonary artery by way of the blood stream where it matures into an adult worm. The pulmonary artery is one of the major blood vessels serving the lungs. It is here that the lungworm will lay it's eggs. From the pulmonary artery eggs and larvae, encased in nodes, will move into the lungs. It is these nodules containing eggs and larvae that damage the lungs. When the eggs hatch the larvae are coughed up by the dog and re-swallowed where they end up back in the gut, passed out in the faeces and so the cycle begins again.
What damage does the eggs and larvae cause in the lungs?
The damage done by these parasites leads to pneumonia and/or bronchitis and can be fatal. The damage is caused by the worms irritating the lining of the lungs and bronchial tubes as they make their way out. This sets up and inflammtory response by the dog's immune system to try to combat the damage done. Lungworms are most often seen in young dogs under two years of age and the condition can be chronic lasting months or years. On occasion the condition has also caused sudden death perhaps due to haemorrhage.
Signs & symptoms of lungworm in your dog
There are a number of signs and symptoms that your dog may show, Having said this, there are quite a few canine conditions that have similar indications. The main ones for lung worm are:
- Weight loss
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty breathing and become tired quickly
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Poor apetite
- Regular bleeding - this presents itself as nose bleeds, excessive bleeding from wounds, anaemia and bleeding into the eye. This is caused because the lungworm infection hinders the blood's ability to clot.
- Behaviour changes and general illness/fatigue, depression.
- This infestation can also lead to fits/siezures
- Collect and dispose of your dog's faeces on a regular basis in a safe and hygenic way.
- As far as possible discourage dogs from sniffing or taking an interest in snails and slugs - use distraction techniques such as treats and toys. Luckily slugs and snails usually taste foul and most dogs avoid eating them - however there are some dogs who don't seem to mind the bad taste. If your dog happens to enjoy a snack on snails or slugs then be extra vigilant. It's also a good idea to try and reduce the numbers of slugs/snails around your garden if this is a problem.
- Keep yourself aware of the latest news and advice from quality websites - a few marketing sites may scare monger a bit to get you to buy a product, so check your facts from other sites.
- If you think your dog is a high risk candidate then speak to your vet. There are spot-on treatments that are given monthly to help prevent this parasite from taking hold. Your vet will be able to advise whether this is necessary or not.
Facts about lungworm infection
There is no doubt that this is a very serious condition and according to 'Lungworm.co.uk' the incidents of infection are on the increase in cooler climates such as the UK. However, as long as pet owners are vigilant and have at least a basic knowledge of how dogs can become infected, there is no reason why a pet won't be treated successfully in most cases.
Here are a few interesting facts in relation to lungworm:
- According to 'Lungworm.co.uk' the site of the UK's official 'Lungworm Aware' campaign, at least 84% of pet owners still don't know the signs of a potential lungworm infection.
- At the present time lungworm can't be treated or prevented with the regular 'worming' tablets given to dogs. There is however, a separate and effective treatment available.
- The latest research by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has confirmed the increase of lungworm infection. However, the rise in figures could be due partly to greater movement of dogs today, from infections zones into previously clear areas. In addition due to greater awareness of this infection more cases are being confirmed so this could add to the figures.
- The lungworm also lives in the heart of it's host and other major blood vessles apart from the lungs. Indeed the species of lungworm that infects dogs - Angiostrongylus vasorum - is also known as French Heartworm.
- Cats can also get lungworm infection but it is a different species of worm. In addition, cats tend to get the infection less directly than dogs. Whereas dogs tend to eat slugs/snails, cats eat the birds that have been feeding on the infected slugs/snails.