Dog owners warned killer lungworm is ‘endemic’

A “hidden killer” parasite that can be fatal to dogs is endemic in central Scotland, new research suggests.

Lungworm can be fatal to dogs. Picture: Rob McDougall
Lungworm can be fatal to dogs. Picture: Rob McDougall
Lungworm can be fatal to dogs. Picture: Rob McDougall

The University of Glasgow study found that Angiostrongylus vasorum (lungworm) is established in slugs and snails in the area.

The parasite, which can be contracted by dogs after they accidentally swallow infected slugs or snails, was present in 6.7 per cent of the creatures tested in three parks in the Glasgow area.

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The figure rose to 11 per cent in Pollok Country Park, where the first case of lungworm infection in a dog in Scotland was reported in 2009.

Researchers also found positive specimens in parks surrounding the city where the parasite was expected to be absent.

Lead researcher Jenny Helm, a clinician at University of Glasgow vet school, said: “We have known for a while that Angiostrongylus vasorum (lungworm) has been spreading across the UK.

“This research in Glasgow has confirmed the parasite’s presence in three country parks that are very popular with dog walkers.

“This finding, along with the recorded presence of the parasite in Scottish foxes, confirms that the parasite is endemic in Scotland.”

The three parks which the study focused on were Eglinton Country Park, Pollok Country Park and Mugdock Country Park.

Left untreated, lungworm can cause a dog’s health to deteriorate rapidly and can result in death.

Once inside the system, the parasite travels through the dog’s body, eventually maturing in the heart and pulmonary arteries, where it produces eggs.

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Larvae emerge and migrate into the lungs to be coughed up and swallowed and subsequently enter the faeces.

The parasite is then picked up by molluscs when they come into contact with the infected faeces.

Additional research has shown that the slime trail left behind by slugs could also present a threat to dogs.

Although accidentally swallowing infected slugs and snails is likely to be the main route of exposure, research has found that infectious larvae can also be released through the mollusc’s slime onto vegetation and then survive for up to 15 days.

A Be Lungworm Aware campaign is urging dog owners to speak to their vet about the risks of the parasite in their area.

Mark Bossley, chief vet at animal charity Blue Cross, said: “We regularly advise dog owners of the dangers of lungworm because, sadly, we see so many cases every year.

“It is a hidden killer so we urge dog owners to talk to their vet about preventative treatments and be vigilant with their dogs when in the garden or on walks.”