Lungworm On The Rise in Europe

The lungworm Angiostrongylus vasorum (also known as French Heartworm) is a parasite that infects dogs as well as foxes and wolves. The parasite is carried by slugs and snails which act as intermediate host. It should be noted that this lungworm is a completely different species to Dirofilaria immitis, a mosquito-transmitted heartworm.

Life cycle.
The adult worms live in the pulmonary (lung) arteries of dogs and foxes. The females release eggs which are carried in the blood and wedge in the lung capillaries (small blood vessels). The eggs hatch and the larva pass into the airways of the lungs. These are then coughed up and swallowed to be passed out in the faeces. The larva are then taken in by slugs and snails were they develop further.

Dogs are infected when they purposefully or accidentally eat these common garden pests when rummaging through undergrowth, eating grass, drinking from puddles. The slime trail from infected slugs and snails can also contain infective larvae. Slime trails could obviously be found on food, bones, toys, water bowls etc. that are left outside. The larvae penetrate through the gut wall and migrate to the pulmonary arteries.

Dogs of all ages can become infected. However, younger dogs of less than 2 years of age seem to be more prone to picking up the parasite. A direct infection from an infected animal is not possible and neither can humans get infected.

Infection with lungworm can cause serious health problems and is often fatal if not diagnosed and treated.

Many of the symptoms may easily be confused with other illnesses, but if your dog is displaying any of these signs, consult your veterinary surgeon immediately:
- Coughing or abnormal breathing problems including exercise tiredness.
- Bleeding due to a reduction in the dogs clotting ability: the bleeding could be anywhere in the body e.g. wounds, nose bleeds, ocular bleeding, gum bleeding etc The bleeding could be severe enough to cause anaemia.
- Generalised illnesses including reduced appetite, gastrointestinal upsets, weight loss.
- Seizures could be triggered if the brain is affected.

Treatment and Prevention
Fortunately there are very effective treatments for Angiostrongylus vasorum available such as Panacur® (active ingredient Fenbendazole). Once diagnosed and treated, most dogs make a full recovery, but the key to successful treatment is taking action early. Periodic anti-parasitic treatment should also be considered in dogs living in endemic areas. Ask your vet.

If you are concerned your dog has picked up, or is at risk from picking up a lungworm infection, contact your vet without delay. Equally, if your dog eats slugs or snails, but is not showing any symptoms, arrange a check up with your vet as a precaution.*)

Keep your garden and surrounding areas as free as possible from dog mess and and don't leave dog toys and water bowls outside overnight.

Please note that you are unlikely to significantly reduce the slug and snail population in your garden by using excessive quantities of slug bait. Many slug pellets are extremely toxic to dogs and other animals and should - if at all - be used with extreme care.

Geographical distribution
Angiostrongylus vasorum has been found in many countries all over Europe, Africa and the Americas.
According to vets the spread of the parasite among dogs is caused by the increase in the fox population in urban areas.

*) IDEXX Angio Detect™ is a new, inexpensive blood test for the detection of Angiostrongylus vasorum infection, with accurate results in 15 minutes instead of 3-day faecal collection.