Lungworm in dogs, caused by the nematode parasite Angiostrongylus Vasorum, has been steadily increasing in prevalence since the first case was recorded in the UK in the 1970s. Believed to have travelled here from France, it first gained a foothold in South East England but has now spread throughout the country.
According to recent studies, the UK reported incidence of lungworm by veterinary practices has increased by more than 200% in the last four years and evidence from the Royal Veterinary College suggests around one in five vet practices are now able to say that they have diagnosed the condition in dogs that attend their surgery.
If you want to see the incidence of lungworm infection in your area, the Act Against Lungworm website has an online post code search tool at www.lungworm.co.uk/map which shows how many dogs have been treated by vets in a particular location.
As lungworm continues to spread, vets in private practice are discovering more and more cases of this potentially fatal parasite. There are several types of lungworm, which somewhat confuses the issue, but the Act Against Lungworm campaign is about Angiostrongylus Vasorum. It's a nematode parasite that infects common garden slugs and snails, and when dogs ingest an infected slug or snail (it doesn't infect cats or people), the larvae migrate within the dogs body to the major blood vessels of the heart that supply the lungs. The really tricky thing about spotting this parasite is that it doesn't always present as a coughing dog - something everyone expects with a parasite called lungworm. Instead, it can just seem like a general systemic illness or, even worse, like some complex clotting disorder and in rare cases, it can even result in sudden death.
The frustration is that many normal worming tablets just won't touch this parasite. Instead, dog owners need to speak to their vet about finding a product that will protect their animal against a condition which can cause a huge amount of harm. It is easy to prevent, that is why it is so upsetting when these cases crop up and why greater awareness amongst dog owners is something we are all calling for. As vets, we need to start ensuring the dogs under our care are protected against this disease in the same way we protect them against fleas, mites, mange or ticks - and it takes some adjustment as many of the current protocols we advise just won't cover against this particular parasite.
Key practical tips that dog owners can follow are:
- Speak to your vet and use monthly product that kills both the adult and larval stages of the lungworm parasite. Prevention is better than cure!
- Change the water bowl in the garden a bit more regularly! Dogs need to be dogs, they will always drink from puddles and stick their noses where they shouldn't, but equally being a bit more vigilant can make a difference
- Discourage your dog from eating slugs or snails (easier said than done in some cases!)
- Pick up toys from the garden at the end of each day (easy to say if you aren't juggling kids and getting in late from work) but often little slugs or snails find their way onto them and then into your dogs mouths in the morning)
- Poo sweep your garden regularly. This is how the lungworm larvae spreads from dog back to snail or slug and then back to slug or snail again!
For more information, visit www.lungworm.co.uk.