Lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is spreading across the UK and there are increasing numbers of cases being reported around the Sandwich, Whitfield and Deal area. The parasite can be a silent killer so it is important to prevent infection and treat regularly. The infection could be fatal to your dog if it is not diagnosed and treated rapidly. Lungworm used to be quite rare in the UK, but recently the parasite has spread and is now found in many parts of the country, including Kent. The spread of the parasite is probably linked to the changing climate and increased travel of dogs around the country and hence potentially spreading the parasite. The natural host for lungworm is foxes and with the surging population of foxes in our towns all dogs are at risk – studies have shown that up to 50% of foxes in the South East are infected!
Lungworms have a fascinating but disgusting life cycle… It starts with your dog either eating a slug/snail or eating something that has got slime on it. Once your dog has ingested the worm larvae they cross the wall of the intestine and migrate through the liver and major blood vessels to the heart and lungs. Here the heart the larvae mature into adults and start to lay eggs. When the eggs hatch the tiny larvae are then coughed up and swallowed and pass out in the faeces – these are not visible to the naked eye. These larvae then infest snails and frogs and develop into more mature larvae that can then infect another dog.
Lungworm can do some serious harm to your dog, often before symptoms develop. Typical symptoms include coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy. They can cause very severe inflammation and bleeding in the lungs. Unfortunately not all dogs with lungworm will start coughing and it can be a silent killer as it can sometimes cause issues with blood clotting and even problems with the brain. We always check that your dog has had good preventative treatment for lungworm before any surgery as if they do happen to have lungworm and it is affecting the clotting of their blood then this could have disastrous effects during surgery and potentially life threatening bleeding.
Now I don’t want to be all doom and gloom! If the infection is detected early – generally with a simple and fast blood test – they most dogs will make a full recovery and live the tell the tale to all their friends. The great news is that lungworm is preventable with a monthly worming protocol. It is not possible for dogs to build up immunity to lungworm so life long preventative treatment is recommended. Due to the parasites life cycle you do need to worm monthly to cover fully for lungworm. Please discuss this your vet and find the best option for you and your dog.
There is a helpful map you can use to search around Deal and Sandwich for recent cases and to check areas that you may be visiting.
Cats can also get lungworm from hunting but it is a different species to the one that infects dogs.
Taylor et al. Increased prevalence and geographic spread of the cardiopulmonary nematode Angiostrongylus vasorum in fox populations in Great Britain. Parasitology (2015) 142(9):1190-6. Helm et al. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26027539