The Truth About Lungworm and Your Dog

DrPaul -

The Truth About Lungworm and Your Dog

Lungworm infections appear to be rising in the UK, but they’re also completely treatable if caught early. So, it’s time to share what you need to know about lungworm and lungworm treatment.


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First, what is lungworm and how might a dog pick it up? Lungworm larvae commonly live in snails, slugs and even frogs. These creatures pick it up from the faeces of infected foxes, dogs and even rats. They can then pass it back to our pets through their slime trails or being eaten - a surprising number of dogs will happily eat slugs and snails!


As we also know, our dogs are commonly very interested in other creature’s poop and might pick up lungworm larvae this way. Many dog’s food bowls and toys are often used outdoors or kept in utility areas, where passing snails may leave a slime trail, so it’s easy to see how dogs are susceptible to ingesting the parasite larvae, either deliberately or accidentally.


Lungworm infection


Once lungworm larvae enter the dog’s digestive system, they move around the body, maturing as they go, until reaching the lungs. Here, mature lung worms lay eggs, which are expelled when the dog coughs. 


These eggs are then swallowed back into the dog’s digestive system, where they exit the body through the faeces. In this way, the cycle goes on continuously through the different ‘host’ species.


Looking for lungworm


The symptoms of lungworm vary and may take from a few weeks to a few months to become evident. Symptoms you might notice in your dog include:


  • Coughing
  • Respiratory distress and breathing problems 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting 
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of interest in walks and exercise 
  • Longer than usual bleeding from minor cuts or injuries
  • Unexplained or excessive bruising


It’s important to seek advice from your vet if your dog presents any of these symptoms, particularly if you’re seeing a combination of symptoms. 


The truth about treating lungworm


We all know the universal truth that prevention is better than cure - and thankfully this is also true for lungworm infections. There are plenty of lungworm prevention options which are quick and easy to administer, so ask your vet for advice on finding the right one.


Whilst it's true that infections do occur, if treated early the outlook for recovery from lungworm infection is likely to be good. Although extreme lungworm infection may cause chronic illness and, in some cases, could be fatal, both prevention and prompt treatment can significantly reduce this risk. 


And a quick word about that - not all dog owners realise that truly effective lungworm treatment must be prescribed by a vet. This is another reason to get advice from your vet quickly, so the right treatment product can be prescribed, improving the chances of a speedy, successful recovery from lungworm infections. 


It’s also true that your local vet should know if lungworm is prevalent in your area, to help target prevention and treatment options. Particularly if you have a young puppy or a dog with other health conditions, the vet can advise on suitable precautions, treatments, or ongoing care to support any long-term effects, so do contact your vet.


Lungworm in cats?


Many cats love the great outdoors and may also be susceptible to lungworm, so it’s definitely worth being aware of the symptoms. Speak to your vet about prevention, especially for kittens, and check food bowls for interference from slugs and snails.


Breaking the cycle


Thankfully many pet owners are becoming much more aware of pet parasite infections including lungworm, which supports prevention and prompt lungworm treatment. By learning more, talking to your vet and taking preventative steps, you’re also playing a great part in helping to break the lungworm cycle in our pets


Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.