What is Lungworm? A quick guide to lungworm in cats & dogs.

Lungworm is a potentially fatal parasite which can infect cats and dogs and is increasingly causing disease within companion animals. This guide gives need-to-know information and tips and tricks on how to avoid your pet contracting lungworm and how to best tackle an infection.

What is Lungworm?

Lungworm affects both dogs and cats and is caused mainly by the worms Angiostrongylus vasorum or Crenosoma vulpis in dogs and Aelurostrongylus abstrusus in cats. Once infected, lungworms live in the lungs or the heart. This can be fatal if not caught in time. Thankfully, there are treatments available from your vets that if administered early enough, your pet is likely to make a full recovery. The difficulty can be that dogs and cats don’t always show signs of lungworm so it can be hard to catch it at an early stage. This is why preventative measures should be put in place if your pet is at risk ( see How can I stop my dog/cat getting lungworm? later in the article).

How is lungworm spread?

Dogs and cats ingest lungworm larvae by eating infected slugs and snails. The larvae then mature and end up in the lungs, where they lay eggs that in turn hatch into larvae. Animals will cough up larvae and swallow them, to then defecate out. Larvae develop in the faeces and go on to infect other snails and slugs.

Check out the map below provided by bayer on the highest infection rates of lungworm in the UK to check if your local area is high risk!

Source: https://www.vetcentre.bayer.co.uk/campaigns/be-lungworm-aware/lungworm-map/

What are the symptoms of lungworm?

Not every dog or cat will show symptoms of lungworm – they may completely recover or not show symptoms but become really poorly very quickly. Unfortunately in these cases there is not a lot pet owners can do, apart from regular testing or screening (see How can I stop my dog/cat getting lungworm? below).

Dogs who do show signs from heavier infections can present symptoms such as these:

  • Coughing/wheezing
  • Reduced stamina/energy with exercise
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Changes in behaviour (depressed, lethargic or more aggressive)
  • Weight loss
  • Generally illness such as vomiting or diarrhoea

Chronic coughing is one of the main indicators of infection, so if your pet is exhibiting this symptom please consult with your vet.

How can I find out if my dog/cat has lungworm?

Lungworm can be tricky to detect. Typcially your vet will take a blood sample for DNA analysis and a stool sample to look at larvae present. Also they may recommend a chest X-ray.

At RRL we provide a stool sample testing service where we analyse your pets faeces under the microscope and look for eggs or larvae and also give an estimation to the severity of the infection. For more information on our testing services, click here. All you have to do is post a stool sample and we will do the rest.

How can I stop my dog/cat getting lungworm?

Puppies and greedy dogs may be more prone to contracting lungworm, as they are more likely to ingest the snails or slugs that carry their larvae. Make sure you are vigilant when out on walks and in places other than your own garden – you never know what your pet might eat!

You can give your cat/dog regular worming treatments but these are not necessary effective. Lungworm can require special medication to both treat and prevent infection. See the mypetandi.bayer.com website for more information on this.

Other things to combat infection are ensuring outdoor toys are not laden with slugs and changing water in outdoor bowls frequently. Additionally or alternatively, you may like to get your pet’s faeces tested on a regular basis to screen for infections or to see how he or she is recovering from infection.

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