Lungworm is becoming an increasing threat to dogs all across the UK due to a number of reasons including a milder and wetter climate and the increase in the number of urban foxes covering a larger area.
There are three main types of lungworm that dogs are most likely to become infected with:
Oslerus osleri (dog lungworm), Crenosoma Vulpis (fox lungworm) and Angiostrongylus vasosum
After having had a dog infected with fox lungworm earlier this year it is a particularly nasty parasite that is often overlooked or misdiagnosed at the vets so it is important to be aware and vigilant of any symptoms that your dog may develop and what treatment is available.
The lungworm needs a host such as a slug, snail, fox or sometimes a frog in which to grow and develop. The dog then, sometimes accidentally, eats a slug possibly on blades of grass, on a dog toy or water bowl or comes into contact with infected fox poo. Approximately 3 days later the larvae can be found in the dogs stomach and then they proceed to migrate to the lungs where they continue to mature until they can lay thousands of eggs which are coughed up and are passed via the dogs faeces. The only difference with fox lungworm is that the mature worms live in the airways of the lungs and the trachea.
The parasite doesn`t pass directly from dog to dog and my other two, although exactly the same lifestyle were completely unaffected by it. The larvae do however pass out in the faeces of the infected dog so there is the potential for the infection to be spread that way.
Slugs and snails are partial to dog poop so if it is left out in the open they will crawl all over it and consume some, therefore becoming infected by the larvae and if eaten by a dog or a fox the cycle starts again. So it is crucial that any dog poo is picked up immediately before slugs and snails have access to it. Also avoid leaving water bowls outside at night and bring in any dog toys to prevent contamination.
The biggest worry with lungworm is that occasionally there are no symptoms present until the disease is at a critical level.
There are however many symptoms that are usually present these include :
- General lethargy and intolerance to exercise
- Breathing difficulties and noisy breathing
- Loss of weight even though the food is increased
- Sore throat, swallowing hard and developing a cough or gag reflex
- Staring into space and a change of temperament, unusually unsettled
- Discharge or bleeding from the nostrils
- Chest infection or pneumonia
- Pale mucus membranes of the eyes and gums
- Excessive bleeding even from a tiny wound and blood shot eyes
- Collapse and seizures
The easiest way to regularly test for lungworm is by a faecal count. If your dog has had lungworm before or you are in an area of high risk then it is advised to test every 3 months. The company I use is wormcount.com and I can highly recommend them. Due to the fact that lungworm don`t shed larvae every day it is necessary to collect a small sample from 3 days worth of poo in the hope that they are shedding on one of those days. If your dog has had lungworm it is really important to send off another test within 3 months as they may still be carrying the worms but they were not shedding larvae on those particular days of testing. There will be a blood test available shortly which gives results with 15 minutes which is obviously a great help if your dog is showing severe symptoms by that stage and a speedy diagnosis can be life saving. Currently the faecal results take from 1-3 days to come back.
Should you get a positive result for lungworm then there are a few options. I haven`t used chemical worm treatments for around ten years and use regular worm counts instead. Due to the seriousness of this disease and the worsening symptoms of my dog it was essential to use the recommended seven day Panacur liquid wormer which I chose over the harsher pour on chemicals. He responded quite quickly to the Panacur and actually after the seven days had put on some of the weight that he had previously lost. He was also given a good quality pro and pre biotic to support his gut at the same time as he was on antibiotics due to a severe chest infection caused by the worms. It is sometimes necessary to repeat the extended course of worming treatment if the worms haven`t been completely eliminated which unfortunately was the case with my dog. If your dog has been given any chemical wormer then you need to wait six weeks before sending off the lungworm test again so the drug is completely out of the system.
Although the fox lungworm can cause serious breathing problems and additional complications it rarely causes death unlike the other types of lungworm, so it should always be treated as an emergency to prevent the deterioration of the disease.
Due to the fact that the larvae are only in the stomach for a short while there is a short window of opportunity to influence them with alternative prevention before they migrate to the lungs and trachea.
There are the options of pour on treatments and a tablet given every 2 months as a prevention of the infection. I am favouring giving Verm-X or the Four Seasons tincture at an increased level every three weeks. It will be essential to still test every three months as the natural preventative can only effect the larvae while they are in the gut and not once they have migrated to elsewhere in the body.