Lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is a potentially fatal worm affecting foxes and dogs. It can cause a range of clinical signs, from mild lethargy to severe coughing and bleeding. It is transmitted through dogs eating slugs or snails, grass contaminated with their slime, or eating or drinking from food or water containers contaminated with slime.
Signs of lungworm can be quite non-specific but include:
- fast breathing or difficulty breathing
- reduced ability to exercise
- neurological changes (changes in behaviour, disorientation, loss of vision, seizures, difficulty walking, paralysis) – due to bleeding in the brain or spinal cord
- bleeding (particularly coughing up blood)
If you notice any of these signs, consult your vet urgently.
Treatment and prevention
Lungworm needs to be treated urgently as if left untreated it can quickly be fatal. Treatment is easy to administer and very effective if the disease is caught early. A blood test or faecal test can be used for diagnosis.
Preventing lungworm infection is much better than risking your pet’s life. There are various preventative treatments available, all of which are prescription-only, so it is important to speak to your vet about the most suitable preparation for your dog in combination with other parasite control.
- Moxidectin – this is found in a monthly spot-on combination product with imidacloprid which is licensed against fleas, mites, roundworms and lungworm.
- Milbemycin oxime – this can be found in a tablet formulation with praziquantel which also treats roundworms and tapeworm. In order to protect against lungworm-induced disease, it needs to be given every four weeks. It can also be found in a monthly tablet formulation with alfoxolaner which also treats fleas, ticks and roundworms.
Another medication which may be used for treatment of the disease under the Prescribing Cascade is fenbendazole. This is not licensed for this purpose but many experts consider it to be the most effective treatment in cases of active infection. If used for this purpose, it needs to be given for several days. Your vet will advise you on the correct dose.