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The 3 steps to effective lungworm prevention for dogs

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For most dogs, it doesn’t get better than exploring the great outdoors, splashing through puddles and rummaging through the undergrowth – it's dog heaven! But it’s important to be aware of the risk of contracting a deadly parasite called lungworm, which lives in slugs and snails.
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You may not have even heard of lungworm. But it is on the rise, with thousands of lungworm infections and many fatalities reported across the UK. Lungworm prevention is essential but luckily, there are easy steps you can take to protect your dog, keeping them happy and healthy.

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Snails with lungworm in grass
What is lungworm?

Scientifically known as Angiostrongylus vasorum, lungworm is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and blood vessels of the lungs of infected animals, such as dogs and foxes. As its name suggests, lungworm often ends up in the lungs, causing damage and making your dog very ill. In many cases, it can be fatal.

How do dogs catch lungworm?
  • Eating slugs, snails or frogs: The wet British weather is the perfect climate for slugs and snails. These common garden critters, along with frogs, can carry lungworm larvae. It’s all too easy for your dog to accidentally (or deliberately!) eat infected slugs and snails when they drink from puddles, eat grass, and generally sniff and rummage around.
  • Ingesting slug slime: It’s not just the animals that carry the larvae. The slime trails of slugs and snails can also be infected, meaning anywhere they go, lungworm can go. Watch out for their tell-tale silvery signs on outdoor water and food bowls and across your dog’s chew toys.
  • Dog faeces as additional risk factor: While lungworm cannot be passed directly from dog to dog, adult lungworms grow inside infected dogs, producing larvae that your dog coughs up, swallows and passes out in their poo. This infects further slugs and snails, which can then infect other dogs and even foxes. This allows the cycle to start all over again, meaning the disease can spread quickly throughout a community. 

Some studies show that almost one in five (18%) of foxes in the UK are now infected with lungworm, rising to 50% in the South-East.

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White dog drinking from muddy water
Why is lungworm so dangerous for your dog?

Diagnosing lungworm can be challenging. Symptoms such as a cough, unexplained weight loss, vomiting and diarrhoea can be mistaken for other illnesses. Your dog can be infected for quite some time without showing any signs at all. Left untreated, lungworm severely affects dogs’ health, and can rupture blood vessels (known as haemorrhaging) in the lungs, liver, intestines, eyes, spinal cord and other organs around the body. Lungworm can be fatal in severe cases and it’s estimated that almost 1 in 10 (9%) of infected dogs die.

A diagnosis of lungworm can be made if a vet detects lungworm larvae in the dog’s faeces. Sometimes a chest X-ray will show abnormalities, but a blood test is also available to quickly and easily diagnose lungworm infection.

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Dog with symptoms of lungworm looking sad on the bed
Which dogs are at risk?

All dogs are at risk of lungworm, but some types are at more risk than others including:

  • Dogs that are prone to eating slugs and snails
  • Younger, more inquisitive or playful dogs
  • Greedy dogs that are likely to find and eat things outside
  • Dogs in southern areas of England and South Wales where lungworm is more common (but note that cases in northern England and Scotland are rising)
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Younger dog being playful outdoors in the autumn leaves
The three steps to effective lungworm prevention

Lungworm needn’t stop you and your dog enjoying the outdoors. There are lots of ways you can act to reduce the risk, preventing your dog from getting lungworm as far as possible.

1. Regularly use a lungworm anti-parasite treatment

Your vet can prescribe a simple, monthly treatment to prevent and treat lungworm that you can give to them. Regular treatment can help protect your dog from the parasite – as you can never be certain whether your dog has eaten slugs or snails or picked up lungworm larvae some other way.

Note that not all wormers, such as those for roundworm and tapeworm, are effective against lungworm, so make sure you speak to your vet about a suitable product that they can recommend.

2. Avoid lungworm ‘hotspots’

Sadly, lungworm is now endemic throughout much of the UK. It was traditionally restricted to the south of England and Wales but now northern England and even Scotland are reporting cases of the parasite too.

However, you can try to avoid the worse hit areas by checking our lungworm map to view the areas with the most reported cases. But remember, many incidences go unreported. Consider asking your vet about the prevalence of lungworm in your area.

3. Be vigilant

Even if your area is high-risk, there are things you can do every day to lower the chances of your dog getting lungworm.

  • Stop your dog eating slugs and snails

In reality, it’s impossible to watch your dog all the time and know if they’ve eaten something they shouldn’t. But if you see them sniffing around slugs and snails, move them away immediately.

  • Don’t leave dog bowls and toys outdoors overnight

Prevent slugs and snails leaving parasitic slime trails or residing where your dog could accidentally swallow them by removing all dog bowls, balls and toys from the garden before night falls.

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Dog playing outside in the garden with toys
  • Regularly clean water bowls kept outside

Slugs and snails seek out sources of moisture and dog bowls are an ideal target. So, be sure to regularly check dog bowls for signs of slugs and snails, and wash them regularly.

  • Clean up after your dog

You probably already do this as a responsible dog owner but picking up and bagging dog poo helps limit the spread of lungworm by preventing larvae in infected poo from infecting slugs and snails.

These tips can help reduce your risk but remember, the best way to be sure your dog is protected against lungworm, is to give them a monthly lungworm treatment available from your vet.

Speak to your vet for more information about preventative treatments.  

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