Slugs, snails and puppy dog tales…..

Lungworm cases in dogs have been on the increase in recent years in the UK, and the Richmond area is no exception. We have recently seen more cases of this potentially life-threatening parasite which is carried by slugs and snails, as well as infecting foxes. Dogs become infected by either eating slugs and snails, or drinking water in outdoor bowls and playing with toys contaminated by the slime trails of these garden pests. There is also a risk of coming in contact with the lungworm eggs in the general environment when dogs are sniffing in undergrowth or where foxes defaecate which also spreads the parasite.

Adult lungworms, also known as Angiostrongylus vasorum,  live in the heart and major blood vessels supplying the lungs of infected dogs where they can cause a whole host of problems. Symptoms of the disease vary and can be quite vague or non-specific, but range from coughing, breathing difficulties and tiring easily to stomach upsets, nose bleeds, pale gums and even internal bleeding. Migration of lungworm larvae through the body when adults reproduce can cause severe tissue damage and internal bleeding as the larvae produce anticoagulants to prevent blood clotting and help with their internal migrations.

For suspicious cases that we see in the practice, a diagnosis is currently made by checking the faeces for the parasite. Depending on severity of the illness, sometimes xrays of the chest and blood samples are required, and airway secretions tested for the presence of the parasite. The key to successful treatment is catching the disease early, and there are several effective treatments available once a diagnosis is made. However, once the disease advances dogs require more intensive treatment, and sadly at this late stage many of them do not survive.

The good news is that lungworm is easily prevented by worming your dog on a monthly basis with either Milbemax tablets or Advocate spot-on treatment. The vital part is that these products are used once monthly for lungworm cover, even though routine worming can be used every three months to control roundworm and tapeworm. The area of parasite control and the huge range of products and combinations available can be quite confusing so if in doubt about whether your current regime is effective against lungworm please call to ask us for advice. Although snails and slugs are often blamed it is important to warn against the use of slug pellets in your garden which are also extremely harmful to pets if ingested, as well as posing a risk to wildlife and the environment.


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