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I lost my dog to lungworm – and I’d never even heard of it.

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Our dogs are part of our families, and losing them doesn’t bear thinking about. But lungworm is spreading throughout the UK, and infection can end in tragedy for your family.
lungworm can be fatal in dogs

Dogs bring endless joy to our lives. We love their enthusiasm, their playful natures and the unconditional love and affection they show to us. They place themselves firmly at the centre of our families, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because we love our dogs, we want them to be healthy and happy throughout their lives. We feed them quality food, we vaccinate them, we keep them away from busy roads. But in the UK our dogs face a serious danger to their health from a simple parasite, and although many of us have never heard of lungworm, an infection can all too easily end in tragedy.

Natasha Ravenscroft from Manchester is one dog owner whose life was turned upside down by this dangerous parasite. Baxter, an otherwise healthy and energetic dog, contracted lungworm but did not display obvious symptoms until it was too late.

“He woke up and I noticed that his eyes had filled with blood,” said Natasha. “He just wasn’t the same dog, he was so poorly.”

Soon after, Baxter collapsed and passed away less than 24 hours later. Blood tests revealed that he had been infected with lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum), a parasite that used to be rare in the UK but is now endemic in many parts of the country.

“I’d never heard of lungworm, so I didn’t know that he wasn’t protected for something,” said Natasha. “People are still not aware. I just wish I’d have known about it.”

Lungworm larvae are carried by slugs, snails and frogs, and can infect dogs if ingested, either deliberately or accidentally. In recent years lungworm has spread to many parts of the country, according to Dr Eric Morgan of Bristol University’s Veterinary Parasitology & Ecology Research Group. “The continued expansion of the range of the lungworm A.vasorum will put increasing populations of dogs at risk,” said Dr Morgan.1

Although dogs of all ages and breeds can become infected with lungworm, tragically it is younger dogs that seem to be more prone to picking up the parasite. Symptoms of infection can easily be confused with other illnesses, and include breathing problems (for example a cough), abnormal bleeding (for example excessive bleeding from small wounds, nose bleeds, bleeding into the eye or internal bleeding), general sickness and behavioural changes, including depression or lethargy. If your dog is displaying any of these signs, consult your vet immediately. You can check if lungworm has been reported in your area using this lungworm locator tool.

If caught early enough, lungworm can be treated and most dogs will make a full recovery. However, prevention is much better than cure, and you can protect your dog against lungworm with a monthly treatment from your vet. It’s important to note that not all wormers are effective against this parasite, and that lungworm prevention must be monthly, speak to your vet who can advise you about a suitable lungworm prevention protocol.

Perhaps the biggest danger is the low awareness of lungworm among dog owners – something Natasha is determined to change so that others can avoid tragedy. “Since losing Baxter, I have been proactive on social media as much as possible to help spread the message of the potentially devastating effects lungworm can have on dogs,” she said. “I just want to help spread awareness so that Baxter’s death wasn’t in vain. If vets and dog owners can be more aware of lungworm, less dogs will have to suffer and go through what Baxter did.”

For further information on treatment and prevention of lungworm, see our guide to lungworm treatment and prevention.

1 Morgan E. et al., Parasitology International (2009)

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