Watch out for lungworm, the deadly parasite that threatens dogs across the UK

Lungworm is on the rise across the country, with a large number of cases recorded in southern England and South Wales, so dog owners should adopt some precautionary measures and talk to their vets about prevention treatment.

Dog owners should watch out for a potentially deadly disease that’s spreading across the country. Lungworm, a parasite that can seriously harm dogs and can be fatal if left untreated, has now been detected almost anywhere in the UK, particularly in southern England and South Wales.

According to pharmaceutical company Bayer, research shows that one in five veterinary practices in the UK have recorded at least one case of lungworm in dogs. The company has published a map of outbreaks, which shows they are highest in parts of London, Surrey, Hampshire, Sussex and Kent, where the disease has long been common, as well as in portions of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, the area around Birmingham and Northern Ireland.

Cases have also been on the rise in parts of the country, such as northern England and Scotland, where the problem was previously extremely rare, an, in the past few days, infections have been reported near Ipswich.

Lungworm — a tiny worm that measures at most an inch when fully grown — spreads quickly through slugs and snails, which eat the larvae released in the waste of infected animals (foxes in particular are prone to the disease and studies now estimate that 18% of the population carries it, with spikes of 50% in the South of England).

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Healthy dogs, explain the Bayer experts, ‘can become infected with lungworm when they swallow slugs and snails or potentially even their slime.’ For this reason, it’s very important not to leave dog toys and water bowls out in the garden, where they can get contaminated.

Once a dog is infected, the parasite then grows into adulthood inside its body and moves to colonise its heart and blood vessels. At this stage, it can cause heart problems and pneumonia but the most serious issues start when lungworms begin to reproduce. This can lead to haemorrhages almost anywhere in a dog’s body and can lead to death.

Vets can prescribe a regular lungworm prevention treatment, so talk to yours to find out whether that’s the best course of action for your pet. And although a dog may not show any symptoms in the early stages of the diseases, it always pays off to take it to the vet if it coughs, bleeds (particularly if it bleeds too much from a small cut), doesn’t eat, loses weight or is unusually tired and lethargic. Lungworms do not pose any threat to human health.