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Can cats get lungworm?

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The lungworm that many people have heard of is the dog lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum); a parasite that can be fatal to dogs. Although this parasite does not affect cats, cats can suffer from their own species of lungworm. Here’s what you need to know about lungworm in cats.

It’s a common misconception that only dogs can get lungworm. Although cats can’t get the dog lungworm Angiostrongylus vasorum (a potentially fatal parasite of dogs), they can get a different species called Aelurostrongylus abstrusus. Lungworm in cats can show similar symptoms to other common lung conditions, such as feline asthma, including coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Unlike dog lungworm, the condition is rarely fatal, though it can be more serious in kittens and animals that are otherwise unwell.
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What is lungworm?
As the name suggests, cat lungworm is a parasite that lives in the lungs and small airways of infected cats. The adult worms produce eggs that hatch into larvae and burrow through the lung tissue, which as you can imagine causes lung damage and associated symptoms like a cough.

How do cats get lungworm?
Cat lungworm is carried by slugs and snails, and cats can become infected either by eating infected molluscs directly, or more commonly by eating other animals that have eaten infected molluscs, such as rodents or birds.

Is lungworm dangerous for cats?
Lungworm generally causes respiratory illness and lung damage, and infected cats often cough or wheeze, and may have breathing difficulties. Symptoms are often mild in adult cats, but the disease can be more serious in kittens and cats that are otherwise unwell.

Can cats transfer lungworm to other pets?
Cat lungworm won’t affect dogs; they have their own species of lungworm that poses a much more serious risk to them. A cat infected with lungworm will pass lungworm larvae out in its faeces, contaminating the environment and infecting the local slugs and snails. Other cats can then pick the disease up either by eating these molluscs, or by eating another small animal (such as a rodent or bird) that has eaten the mollusc.

What are the symptoms of lungworm?
Symptoms include a persistent cough, wheezing and sneezing (especially after exertion), and there may be some discharge from the nose and difficulty breathing. These signs can also be seen in other diseases, so it’s not always easy to tell if your cat has lungworm. If your cat has any of these symptoms it’s advisable to get them checked over by a vet.

How can you protect your pet?
Discouraging your cat from hunting will help reduce the risk, but of course this is easier said than done! As tiny slugs and snails can fall into water bowls and attach to toys, cleaning these regularly and thoroughly can help reduce the risk. Not all products are able to kill this parasite, speak to your vet for further advice.

Did you know…
Don’t eat slugs. That might seem obvious, but an Australian man ate two for a dare and contracted meningitis from the rat lungworm hiding within. Thankfully, he recovered fully, but it took five months. Further evidence that you should always pick ‘truth’.

For more information about worming your cat, click here.